A spinal cord injury causes a devastating loss of function because it disrupts or destroys the connection between the brain and body. Now only does a spinal cord injury (SCI) often result in paralysis, but people who live with the injury also suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular complications.
In recent years there has been an uptick in programs working to create interventions that are capable of overcoming the very worst effects of spinal cord injuries. These programs are using things that include artificial intelligence, neurotechnology and biological sensors to work with the body’s nervous system, restoring functions. The research is highly anticipated as it has the possibility of improving lives that are affected by SCI’s immensely. The new technology being adapted can help to promote healing at the site of the wound and restore natural functions such as movement, touch, breathing, and bowel and bladder control all of which can be lost when the spinal cord is damaged.
Stephen Strittmatter, a neurology and neuroscience professor at Yale University has received funding from the National Institutes of Health translational funding program to continue his research of regrowing damaged nerve fibers after an injury. Stritmatter has relaunched his former company, Axerion, as ReNetX.
The biotechnology company, ReNetX Bio, Inc. is committed to reversing damage for patients that suffer from central nervous system disorders. Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the company the go-ahead for an application of its lead drug candidate, which is a fusion protein. The drug is set to enter the first phase of human trials with patients at various leading SCI treatment centers around the country. It’s estimated that 300,000 people are currently living with chronic SCI in the United States, yet there is not an approved therapeutic method to restore motor or sensory function after an injury. There is a huge need to address such a significant and unmet medical need.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a new program, Bridging the Gap Plus (BG+), which will continue to make progress that demonstrates the direct and indirect neural interfaces which show potential to help individuals with SCI injuries and illnesses. Their research is aimed at developing new technologies for regenerative therapy, injury stabilization, and functional restoration in patients in different phases of spinal cord injuries.
GTX, a European company that has just merged with a U.S. concern is also advancing both implantable and non-implantable simulations to help patients recover strength and control. There are a large number of similar technologies being studied in China, making it clear that there is a global interest in the area of SCI intervention technology.
In 2016 it was reported that there were brain implants with the technology to allow paralyzed monkeys to walk again. However, Swiss Neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine has stated that using the same experiment on humans would be far more complex due to the fact that human brains are much more difficult to decode.
There are a number of robotic exoskeleton companies that have been working hard to help SCI patients rehabilitate, including Cyberdyne, ReWalk and Ekso Bionics. These technologies are often used in conjunction with other advancements.
Regardless, there have been major leaps made in the technology and knowledge that surround spinal cord injury interventions. It will be interesting to monitor new startups and companies that will be creating programs aimed to bring life-changing solutions to those affected by SCI.