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Breakthroughs in treatment for paralysis

Paralysis implant shows promise outside the lab


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Dr. Jonathan Jagid is chief of functional neurosurgery and a researcher at UHealth, University of Miami Health System. To find out more about the paralysis implant study or to make an appointment, call 305-243-6946 or visit the University of Miami’s health news blog.

PARALYSIS IMPLANT STUDY

At The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, part of UHealth, University of Miami Health System, a unique research study has helped a Miami man regain movement. German Aldana was just 16-years-old when he was paralyzed in a car accident.

Now 22, German is a complete quadriplegic, meaning he has no movement or sensation below the biceps and elbow. He requires around-the-clock nursing care for many aspects of daily living.

“After my accident, I was sad, angry, a lot of emotions. I heard about The Miami Project and I was interested in this study to try to help cure paralysis,” says German.

At UHealth, neurosurgeons and biomedical engineers have partnered with researchers at The Miami Project to design new robotic technology that will help patients with paralysis perform daily tasks like feeding themselves.

Because the spinal cord carries information from the brain to the muscles that control the body, people with injuries in their high cervical area are often left with the inability to use their hands or limbs. Remarkably, however — despite the fact that their brain signals no longer reach their target muscles — the cells in the brain still respond when a person even thinks about moving their hand.

As part of the study, devices were implanted in German’s chest and brain. When he thinks about moving his hands, it sends signals to a computer that communicates wirelessly to an orthotic glove. While wearing the glove in the lab, German was able to move his hand.

“It’s taken about a decade to come to where we are now at the point of having an actual subject implanted,” says Dr. Jonathan Jagid, UHealth neurosurgeon and principal investigator of the study. “We took a device that was originally designed for deep brain stimulation and we adapted it to listen to what the brain is saying and reproduce hand function.”

Dr. Jagid says the wireless capability of the implant as well as its fully implanted attribute makes it a superior option for use outside the lab. “Other devices that have achieved similar results require a person to have a post protruding from the head and be tethered to a computer in a lab,” says Jagid.

German’s progress throughout the study has been “absolutely striking,” according to Dr. Jagid. “He's able to use his hands now. He can write. He can feed himself to a certain extent. Our hopes are that in the not too distant future, he can start to do these things outside of the lab. We will show that he can initiate step and be able to ambulate with this device.”

“Being able to grab stuff, do other movement, I'm able to do now something I dreamed about,” says German. “Your brain is very powerful and the goal is to walk again.”

FOCUSING ON YOU

Focusing on You: Innovations in Modern Medicine is a series of healthcare-related stories airing regularly on WPLG Local 10. For more stories like this one, visit YouTube channels for UHealth, the University of Miami Health System.

Above content provided by UHealth, the University of Miami Health System