Although no medical cure currently exists for spinal cord injury, paralyzed patients in the future could be able to walk again thanks to robotic exoskeleton technology, being developed all around the world. A team of Belgian researchers is working on a mind-controlled variant called Mindwalker, a system that converts electroencephalography (EEG) signals from the brain, or electromyography (EMG) signals from shoulder muscles, into electronic commands to control the exoskeleton.
The Mindwalker project (also known as: Mind-controlled orthosis and VR-training environment for walk empowering) is a three-year initiative supported by 2.75 million euros in funding from the European Commission. The ultimate goal of the project is to help paralyzed people who spend their lives in a wheelchair get back them on feet by bypassing the spinal cord entirely and routing brain signals to the robotic exoskeleton.
Researchers have discovered that a cancer drug, Taxol, can reduce deterioration of the cytoskeleton and scar tissue following spinal cord injuries in rats.
A weakened cytoskeleton and impenetrable walls of scar tissue are considered by many to be the main obstacles of regeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord.
The researchers claim Taxol was effective in promoting regeneration of injured spinal cord nerve cells in rats following spinal cord lesions. Only a few weeks following the spinal cord lesions and Taxol application, rats showed significant improvement in movements.
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Nerves Have Axons, Dendrites and Cell Bodies
- Nerve cells are designed to respond to stimuli and transmit information over long distances
- Nerve cell has 3 parts:
- Cell body:
- Has single nucleus
- Has most of nerve cell metabolism, especially protein synthesis
- Proteins made in cell body must be delivered to other parts of nerve
- Long cylinder, designed to transmit an electrical impulse
- Can be several meters long in vertebrates (giraffe axons go from head to tip of spine)
- Has axonal transport system for delivering proteins to ends of cell