Spinal injuries disrupt the transmission of electrical signals from the brain to the lower body, causing a reduction in mobility and, in severe cases, leading to total paralysis. Spinal stimulators have emerged as a solution, being surgically implanted devices that can bypass the injury site to restore some mobility. However, existing stimulators are often bulky, require surgery, and present precision challenges. In a recent study, the Johns Hopkins research team unveiled a smaller, flexible, and stretchable device, offering a potential game-changer in spinal injury treatment.

Unlike traditional stimulators, the new device is strategically placed on the ventrolateral epidural surface, closer to motor neurons for enhanced precision. Remarkably, it can be injected into place using a regular syringe, eliminating the need for surgery. Tests conducted on paralyzed mice yielded promising results, demonstrating the potential of this groundbreaking technology.

Lead author of the study, Dinchang Lin, stated, “Applying this new technology in a mouse model, we evoked leg motions using an electric current nearly two orders of magnitude lower than that used in traditional dorsal stimulation.” Lin emphasized that the stimulator not only enabled a broader range of motions but also allowed for the programming of the electrode array’s stimulation pattern, resulting in more intricate and natural leg movements resembling stepping, kicking, and waving.

The Johns Hopkins team envisions that this innovative device could eventually contribute to restoring motor function in patients with spinal cord injuries or neurological diseases. Its less invasive nature is expected to increase accessibility and reduce costs, potentially reaching a larger population in need. However, the researchers acknowledge that additional development work is necessary to prepare the technology for human use, including rigorous safety testing.

As this flexible stimulator represents a significant advancement in spinal injury treatment, further refinement and testing are crucial steps towards making this groundbreaking technology a viable and transformative option for individuals with mobility challenges due to spinal injuries or neurological conditions.

By Impact Lab