Assistive devices, much like the basketball chairs shown above, are being continuously improved while scientists research ways to restore movement in paralysis. Image Source: Flickr User DFAT Photo Library

Paralysis may stem from neurological disruptions present at birth or as a result of an accident. In the case of one bicyclist, his quadriplegia is a result of an accident eight years ago. Paralyzed below his shoulders, he now requires assistance with all of his daily tasks. However, recent innovations allowed him to be perhaps the first quadriplegic in the world to have arm and hand movement restored.1

Researchers bypassed the broken connection between the spinal cord and the extremity with a type of brain-computer interface which interprets and delivers messages from his brain to his muscles via a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system. This paradigm-shifting discovery is the product of a multi-institution collaborations, which took everything into account, from basic biomedical bench science to clinical trials. Innovative lab software assists researchers by housing data in a common space, enabling better collaboration and paradigm-shifting results, such as these.

Amazing New Technology

Nerve impulses in the body are electrical. Fortunately, electricity is pretty well understood and a lot of the basic principles of electricity can be transferred to the nervous system. In many cases of paralysis, particularly those resulting from injury, such a motor vehicle collision, what has occurred is a poorly or non-functioning connection between brain and limb—much like a broken circuit.

Attempts at reconnecting the base material of this pathway are still being conducted, but the researchers in this study decided to add a pathway to circumvent the gap. This, of course, is much easier said than done. Researchers across numerous institutes and disciplines, from biomedical engineers to physicians, collaborated to identify needs and possible solutions in this case. Collaborative efforts like these can easily be facilitated using modern lab software that enables more efficient knowledge sharing and data mining.

Let’s use the aforementioned cyclist as a case study: He has a C4 injury, breaking the connection between the brain and everything below the clavicle.2 His injury was particularly severe, even immobilizing his shoulders apart from minimal, non-functional, voluntary movement of his right shoulder. Researchers and clinicians from numerous facilities came together to create a brain-computer interface (BCI), which they used in conjunction with a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system to activate voluntary muscular movement.3 This neuroprosthetic includes two 96-channel microelectrode arrays directly into the precentral gyrus in the motor cortex which collect information and pass it along to the BCI. The BCI contains a neural decoder that translates the recorded activity into signals for muscle stimulation for coordinated movement.

The next step involved the FES, which includes an external stimulator that delivers movement commands via percutaneous electrodes along the length of the arm, from shoulder to hand. This system is incredibly promising, especially for those who lost the capacity to move their arms of their own volition and may soon have the ability to do so so again.

Learning How to Reach…Again

When a person loses voluntary control over their extremities, the muscles atrophy and the brain “forgets” how to initiate voluntary movement. Prior to the full-scale test, the cyclist underwent extensive mental training to recall the will to move and to in part teach the computer to hear those signals. Innovative lab software can help researchers collect data and investigate trends that occur in the signals that the brain sends, as well as outputs observed.

After a lot of hard work on the part of the participant, he did relearn how to convey those messages to his hand; however, the muscular atrophy hampered the movement. Researchers and clinicians conducted substantial muscular training and created an assistive platform that integrates with the BCI to support the participant’s arm. This allowed the cyclist to attain his goal of feeding himself and scratching his own nose. It is easy to forget that though this may be simple tasks for able-bodied people, this is an incredible feat for someone who sustained such a serious injury.

These technological advancements cannot yet not serve as a replacement for caregivers, but they  could reduce reliance on external caregivers and eventually eliminate the need altogether. Fully implantable FES systems have been developed and are currently in testing. Comprehensive lab software can help take this research to the next level. By supporting researchers in their data collection and analysis, modern lab software may help researchers further refine this technology. Perhaps, this may be a technology that moves beyond the arms and into the legs, helping paralyzed people walk again.

Our cyclist says he welcomes the new technology and has a stellar attitude about participating in and conducting research stating that “somebody has to do research, if nobody does research things don’t get done.”4

BIOVIA Electronic Laboratory Notebooks can assist researchers by supporting collaboration across different labs and institutions, reducing repeat experiments by 25% and improving productivity by 25% while removing all non-value added manual activities and errors. In your pursuit for new technological innovations, perhaps those leading to life changing movement, let BIOVIA house all of your data in one space so that it can be cohesively searched, easily communicated and applied to future experiments. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “Man with quadriplegia employs injury bridging technologies to move again-just by thinking,” March 28, 2017,  http://thedaily.case.edu/man-quadriplegia-employs-injury-bridging-technologies-move-just-thinking/
  2.  “Restoration of reaching and grasping movements through brain-controlled muscle stimulation in a person with tetraplegia: a proof-of-concept demonstration,” May 12, 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673617306013
  3. “Reaching again: a glimpse of the future with neuroprosthetics,” May 12, 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673617305627
  4. ”Man with quadriplegia employs injury bridging technologies to move again – just by thinking,” March 28, 2017, https://youtu.be/OHsFkqSM7-A