It happens about 1,800 times per year: after a sporting or traffic-related accident, a person's spinal cord is injured to where nerve tracts are severed and he becomes paralyzed. Researchers now want to develop software that measures the brain signals of paralyzed patients and sends out electrical impulses via a system to stimulate muscles, causing them to move again.
With this research project, a team of scientists from the West Saxon University of Applied Sciences of Zwickau, the University Hospital Leipzig, and the Fraunhofer IWU tries to reduce the effects of paraplegia. In this interview, Dr. Ronny Grunert explains the technologies designed to implement this goal.
Dr. Grunert, what are the most common causes of paraplegia?
Dr. Ronny Grunert: Most of our patients are paraplegics due to an accident or spinal cord injuries. Our technology primarily aims to help newly injured patients.
Your project intends to reduce the effects of paraplegia. How do you want to achieve this?
Grunert: The project just started in August. Our research has been approved for three years. During this time, we want to be able to generate first functional models with which we can subsequently obtain conclusive evidence of muscle control. We will use electroencephalography (EEG) for this. Our long-term goal is for a paraplegic patient to be able to get up and stand again. But first, we need to conduct extensive research.
We are also closely collaborating with Dr. Winkler of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Leipzig, who co-developed this project idea with us. He is an expert in placing electrodes in the brain and stimulating it with electrical impulses to help patients with Parkinson's disease to reduce their tremors for example.