How Australian researchers' 'bionic spine' will help paraplegics
In what could become an evolutionary technological breakthrough to cure spinal damage, researchers at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Hospital have developed a small ‘bionic spine’ which will help paralyzed patients improve mobility.
Although the device so far has only been tested on sheep, three patients from the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Austin Health spinal cord unit have already been selected to be the first volunteers for human trials in 2017.
The implant will be the size of a paper clip and placed into a blood vessel adjacent to the brain to read electrical signals — then feeding them into an exoskeleton, bionic limbs or wheelchair based on subconscious thoughts. It will allow paraplegics to have better movement through nerve impulses.
With the help of a catheter, the small stent is inserted into the jugular vein in the neck and pushed upward until it reaches the motor cortex of the brain, which controls movement. Since it uses the vein to imbed the stint rather than brain surgery, the procedure can be completed in only a few hours.
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The stent essentially acts as a recording device, collecting electrical activity from neurons in the motor cortex, then translating the activity into commands. Those commands are transmitted by 12 wires to an implant in the chest, which then sends commands wirelessly to the exoskeleton or wheelchair.
"Our vision, through this device, is to return function and mobility to patients with complete paralysis by recording brain activity and converting the acquired signals into electrical commands, which in turn would lead to movement of the limbs through a mobility assist device like an exoskeleton,” said Royal Melbourne Hospital neurologist and lead researcher Thomas Oxley. “In essence this a bionic spinal cord.”
NHS opens 8 clinical trial sites to assess cancer treatment
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) is opening eight clinical trial sites to assess patients' responses to personalised cancer therapy.
The trials will analyse how patients diagnosed with advanced melanoma or non-small cell lung cancer respond to immunotherapy, to help predict their response to treatment. They will be hosted at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust facilities.
Immunotherapy helps the body's own immune system fight cancer, but while it has achieved good results for some cancer patients, it is not successful for everyone. Finding ways to predict which people will respond to the treatment is a major area of research.
OncoHost, an oncology startup, will provide advanced machine learning technology to develop personalised strategies aiming to improve the success rate of the cancer therapy. The trials will contribute to OncoHost’s ongoing PROPHETIC study, which uses the company’s host response profiling platform, PROphet®.
“Immunotherapy has achieved excellent results in certain situations for several cancers, allowing patients to achieve longer control of their cancer with maintained quality of life and longer survival,” said Dr David Farrugia, Consultant Medical Oncologist at NHS, and chief investigator of all eight NHS clinical trial sites.
“However, success with immunotherapy is not guaranteed in every patient, so this PROPHETIC study is seeking to identify changes in proteins circulating in the blood which may help doctors to choose the best treatment for each patient."
"I am excited that Gloucestershire Oncology Centre and its research department have this opportunity to contribute to this growing field of research and I am determined that our centre will make a leading national contribution in patient recruitment.”
Previous studies in the US and Israel have shown that PROphet® has high accuracy in predicting how patients with cancer will respond to various therapies.