Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wireless microelectronic stimulators for spinal cord injuries tested in animals

NJIT researchers have done animal testing of wireless neural stimulators called FLAMES (floating light activated micro-electrical stimulators) for individuals with spinal cord injuries.

The FLAMES technology uses tiny semiconductor devices energized by an near-infrared light beam through an optical fiber located just outside the spinal cord. The devices are designed to activate the nerves in the spinal cord below the point of injury and thus allow the use of paralyzed muscles. The device is implanted into the spinal cord, and is then allowed to float in the tissue. There are no attached wires. A patient pushes a button on the external unit to activate the laser, the laser then activates the FLAMES device.

“The unique aspect of the project is that the implanted stimulators are very small, in the sub-millimeter range,” Sahin said. “A key benefit is that since our device is wireless, the connections can’t deteriorate over time plus, the implant causes minimal reaction in the tissue, which is a common problem with similar wired devices.”

The electrical activation of the central and peripheral nervous system has been investigated for treatment of neural disorders for many decades and a number of devices have already successfully moved into the clinical phase, such as cochlear implants and pain management via spinal cord stimulation. Others are on the way, such as micro stimulation of the spinal cord to restore locomotion, micro stimulation of the cochlear nucleus, midbrain, or auditory cortex to better restore hearing and stimulation of the visual cortex in the blind subject. All of them, however, are wired.

The work is now in its third year of support from a four-year, $1.4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

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