Look out, Six Million Dollar Man: The melding of human and machine is taking another step out of sci-fi into the real world. Researchers in Switzerland announced today they have made a significant advance toward the goal of replacing life-long disability with life as a cyborg.
They unveiled a new flexible neural implant that delivers electric and chemical stimulation directly to nervous system tissues. In early trials, it allowed paralyzed rats to walk again with fewer side effects than other treatments. The device can be embedded in the spinal cord or brain to deliver therapy to damaged neurons and reverse the effects of debilitating injury.
The research team at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne says they engineered the implant to have the same mechanical properties as the outermost membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord, called the dura matter. Because it is made out of soft, stretchy material that moves along with the living tissue, it doesn’t rub against it to trigger inflammation, scar tissue buildup and eventual rejection. If their e-Dura device develops as hoped, it would be the first neuroprosthetic implant that resides in the body over the long term—they believe it could last for 10 years inside a human patient.
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