€3m EU-funded project to ‘rewire’ an injured spinal cord

Innovative technology is being developed to enable patients to regain control of limbs - despite an injury that stops the transmission of signals through the spinal cord - in what looks likely to become “a major breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis”.

By
Tonya
Stewart

A four-year project, funded by Horizon 2020’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme - and involving a project team taken from four EU countries - is working to design and build a prototype of an active implant that focuses on the restoration of the transmission of signals in an injured spinal cord.

The implant envisaged by the ByAxon project team would enable signals to travel both ways – in addition to instructions reaching the limbs, sensory information would once again be returned to the brain. Currently, neural interfacing technology does not deliver this feedback and typically involves cables or electrodes – or equipment that is not portable.

Although in its early stages, the project, called ByAxon, has already delivered a first prototype of an artificial neuron that allows the generation of magnetic fields similar to those generated by neural tissues. The first generation of the magnetic sensors and nano-structured electrodes have been designed and are ready to be implanted in in-vitro neuronal cultures. Next, biocompatibility tests will be conducted, followed by the optimisation of the design and then implantation in a pair of spinal explants, enabling the final model of the bypass prototype.

While its research focuses on spinal cord injuries, the project team observes that the technology could be harnessed for other types of neural interface. These could include retinal implants, brain-recording systems for those with epilepsy and deep-brain stimulation devices for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

“The ByAxon project makes no extravagant claims,” comments an article in Medical Life Sciences News last month. “It is very early days for the technology it is proposing, and much more research is needed to take the innovation forward once this four-year undertaking ends in December 2020.

Nonetheless, the project is shaping into what might, eventually, turn out to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis.”

ByAxon is an interdisciplinary consortium of six partners (five research institutions IMDEA Nanocienciea, CNRS-GREYC; SISSA, SESCAM, ICMM-SCIS and one company mfd-Diagnostics) taken from four EU countries - Spain, France, Italy and Germany. Work began in Spain, where the project is co-ordinated, in January 2017.

The €3m ByAxon project is supported by the EU’s FET programme through a grant scheme designed to support the initial stages of research exploring radically innovative new ideas (FET-Open).

Related information 

ByAxon project website

Tonya Stewart

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