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Implant allows brain injured rats to rapidly recover motor skills


December 13, 2013
By Canadian Chiropractor staff

Dec. 12, 2013 — Scientists at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Case Western Reserve University have developed a lightweight, battery-powered device that appears capable of repairing damaged pathways in the brain. The technology holds promise for the millions of individuals suffering from the damage left by stroke or head injuries.

Neurobiologist Randolph J. Nudo, Ph.D., is the senior author of the
study, which appears in The Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS). Nudo says the project represents an important step
toward developing devices that can be implanted in the brains of stroke
patients, soldiers with traumatic brain injuries and others with
abnormal brain function.

Nudo, a professor of molecular and
integrative physiology and director of the Landon Center on Aging at the
University of Kansas Medical Center, worked on the design of a brain
prosthesis with Pedram Mohseni, Ph.D., an associate professor of
electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland. The idea behind the prosthesis, or microdevice,
is similar to defibrillators implanted into heart patients. But instead
of monitoring the heart, the microdevice monitors neurons firing in the
brain. The aim is to restore communication patterns that have become
disrupted by injury or disease.

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"We're basically trying to
reproduce the process that the brain uses during development, and that
it tries to accomplish after injury, but with electronic components that
will artificially bridge these areas," Nudo says.

In order to
test the idea, the components were scaled to fit a rat-sized brain.
Powered by a simple watch battery, the microdevice was implanted into
rats with damaged frontal cortexes. The microdevice was designed to
record signals in one part of the brain and then translate them into
electrical impulses that stimulate another part of the brain. Nudo and
his colleagues wanted to see if the artificial communication could help
the brain-injured rats recover their motor skills.

To determine
if recovery had taken place, the rats were tested on their ability to
reach for a food pellet. The task required some skill as the rats had to
reach through an opening in a Plexiglas chamber.

The results
were striking. Without help from the device, rats with brain injuries
struggled to reach for and grasp the pellets. When the device was
switched on, they were suddenly able to perform the task with ease. In
fact, after two weeks of microdevice-delivered brain stimulation, the
rats were performing approximately at pre-injury levels.

David
Guggenmos, Ph.D., a student in Nudo's lab at the time of the experiment
and first author of the study, captured the before-and-after tests on
video. Nudo says he almost could not believe his eyes when Guggenmos hit
the play button. "I almost hit the ceiling," he says. "It was one of
the most exciting things I've seen since I've been in science."

The
next step is to design and build a device for testing on primates, with
the eventual goal of taking into clinical trials with humans. If
successful, the microdevice could augment — and in some cases replace —
rehabilitation therapy, which is often time-consuming and expensive.
"You just implant it, and it basically fixes the brain pathways that are
injured," Nudo says.

The research is supported in part by the
United States Department of Defense. Traumatic brain injury is one of
the signature injuries of troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nudo
and Mohseni presented a commercialization plan for the technology at
the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs conference in 2012.
The plan won first prize at the conference's first annual Medical Device
Entrepreneur's Forum.

"We think this is a game changer," Nudo says. "There really has not been anything like this."

The
research was funded by the Department of Defense Traumatic Brain
Injury-Investigator-Initiated Research Award Program and the American
Heart Association. The Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center, a
Veterans Affairs Research Center of Excellence affiliated with Case
Western Reserve University, supported the fabrication costs for the chip
in the microdevice.

Meysam Azin, Ph.D., a former student in
Mohseni's lab; Scott Barbay, Ph.D., a Landon Center senior scientist;
Jonathan Mahnken, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics in the KU
School of Medicine; and Caleb Dunham, a Landon Center research analyst,
are co-authors of the PNAS study.

A video report on the study is here.