Patients who suffer from loss of sensory function, such as touch and proprioception, caused by neurological injury may soon be treated with spinal cord stimulation to restore these critical functions.
New research by IU School of Medicine faculty showed that rodents and monkeys can recognize artificial sensations generated by electrical stimulation of their dorsal spinal cord. These results are an important step in developing new neuroprosthetic devices for patients with sensory loss due to spinal cord injury, stroke or amputation. Neuroprosthetic devices, such as cochlear and retinal implants, are used to treat patients with impaired hearing and vision, respectively.
Led by Amol Yadav, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery, the study titled, “Generating artificial sensations with spinal cord stimulation in primates and rodents,” was published May 17 in Brain Stimulation.
“Current methods for rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord injury and stroke who are suffering from sensory and motor deficits focus on motor recovery alone,” said Yadav. “Our new technique on generating artificial sensations using electrical stimulation of the dorsal spinal cord can be used for restoring sensory functions.”
He and his fellow researchers implanted rats and three rhesus monkeys with stimulation electrodes in the epidural space of the dorsal spinal cord. In their experiments, the monkeys were seated in front of a computer monitor and by moving hand-held joystick controls were trained to detect and discriminate artificial sensations generated by patterns of electrical stimulation.
The study found that by varying the intensity, temporal pattern and location of spinal cord stimulation, different sensory experiences could be experienced in both monkeys and rats.
“If this new technique is applied along with current motor rehabilitation therapies, it could lead to better and faster recovery of lost sensorimotor functions and an improved quality of life for injured patients,” said Yadav.