Human trials of a device the size of a paper clip containing small electrodes which pick up neuron function from a blood vessel near the brain will begin next year. Jim Drury reports.
Powered exoskeletons that allow the paralysed to walk are at the forefront of medical technology. Now Australian scientists are set to revolutionise the field with an ambitious new project. They've invented the stentrode, a three millimetre wide metal device designed to access brain signals and allow patients to move artificial limbs or wheelchairs. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AND NEUROLOGY, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY, PROFESSOR TERRY O'BRIEN SAYING: "This is an absolute world first. This approach hasn't been done before. We now have a device that actually can practically be implanted and maintained over many years." The stentrode contains a web of small electrodes and is implanted into a blood vessel next to the brain's motor cortex, bypassing the need for more complex brain surgery. SOUNDBITE (English) NEUROPHYSIOLOGIST AT FLOREY INSTITUTE OF NEUROSCIENCE AND MENTAL HEALTH, PROFESSOR CLIVE MAY SAYING: "We were able to develop the technique to be able to push this stent up through the blood vessels in the brain from the jugular." Pre-clinical animal trials were successful. Next year patients in two Australian hospitals will receive the implants. SOUNDBITE (English) NEUROPHYSIOLOGIST AT FLOREY INSTITUTE OF NEUROSCIENCE AND MENTAL HEALTH, PROFESSOR CLIVE MAY SAYING: "They will think they want to do a certain movement, the limb will move in a certain way and they will over time be able to teach themselves what they have to think to be able to move in a particular way." The research was part funded by the Australian government and the U.S military. If the trials succeed, the stentrode could be on the market by 2022.