Research Project: SLARSI

The project undertakes the design and development of an implant system for providing patients with complete spinal cord injury with three functions that are important for their quality of life and long-term health. This system will stimulate the lumbar and sacral nerve roots in the spinal canal, which innervate the muscles of the legs, bladder and rectum, restoring basic muscle control for leg exercise, pedaling a recumbent tricycle and rowing as well as bladder and bowel emptying. This will provide patients the ability to exercise their large leg muscles to maintain muscle mass, improve circulation and provide cardio-vascular exercise. The sacral root stimulation will provide more normal urological function and reduce the number of urinary tract and kidney infections.

The system comprises of two parts: a passive implanted electronic device which receives power and commands by induction from an external transmitter, and sends stimulating currents to 10-12 electrodes; and the external part which has a microcontroller, user interface display and power supply box. The radio-frequency inductive link means that no wires need penetrate the skin so the implant is unlikely to introduce infection into the body.

The Implanted Devices Group at University College London developed a bladder-control implant that is produced commercially, and made an experimental implant for restoring leg function, stimulating the lumbar nerve roots. Recently, surface electrode stimulation systems have been used with a larger cohort of paraplegics to demonstrate that electrically-stimulated cycling can be used for regular leg exercise and games. The biomechanics of this cycling is being studied so as to improve the efficiency and power output. It is now timely to develop an implanted stimulator for these functions that will offer the opportunity to exercise without taking so much of the usersĀ“ time to apply surface electrodes.

Thus this project draws together past work in the neuroscience, mechanics and exercise physiology of the neuroprostheses for patients with spinal cord injury to produce a device that is aimed to become a commercial product that can be widely used to reduce the cost of healthcare and improve patients quality of life.

More information on spinal cord injury and electrical stimulation is available here.

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