Further developments in spinal injury research

29 March 2017

On 9 December 2016 I blogged on the Swiss led research into the use of wireless brain implants to overcome paralysis caused by lower spinal cord injury.  My view at the time was that such advancements offer real hope for the future for those who have sustained a spinal injury.  This morning the story involving Bill Kochevar, who was paralysed in a cycling accident, gained wide media coverage whereby he has regained the use of his right hand for the first time since his accident 8 years ago.  This was achieved by inserting sensors into the area of the brain controlling hand movement and then implanting 36 electrodes into his arm.  The electrodes stimulated muscles in his hand, elbow and shoulders, the results of which were truly amazing and inspirational.  For the first time in 8 years he was able to use his arm to eat.               

Taken together, the Swiss research and Bill Kochevar’s case demonstrate the pace of research and evolving technology in this area.  The advancements mean that regaining motor function following a spinal cord injury is no longer an aspiration but, in a matter of time, will become reality.

Although inspirational, this latest news should be taken with a degree of caution.  Techniques such as this demonstrate the fantastic work that organisations such as The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and Spinal Research undertake on behalf of those who are spinal cord injured and their families.  As with all research, various steps need to be taken before the technique can be offered as a mainstream treatment option.  It is likely various clinical trials will be required to establish any shortcomings and success rates before implants and electrodes are offered as wider mainstream treatment.

On 28 March 2017, I attended and spoke at the Naidex Exhibition at the NEC, Birmingham.  Upon wandering around the exhibition hall the pace of advancement in technology and equipment available for those who have a disability is clearly evident.  For example, the advancements of eye gaze equipment and the range of wheelchairs currently available.  We do not have to venture too far into the past to remember times when the idea of having a wheelchair that worked off road (for example, on forest tracks or cross country) was a mere aspiration.  Now, in 2017, the options are varied and manufacturers offer bespoke wheelchairs suitable for all types of terrain.  This is pleasing and reassuring.

The clear message I get from every catastrophic injury case I conduct, whether it involves a back injury, spinal cord injury or brain injury, is that disability does not signify the end of an individual’s life.

If you have sustained an injury, or have been affected by the issues discussed in this blog, please contact Richard Lodge or a member of our Clinical Negligence team. Alternatively, you can contact us on 020 7814 1200 or email us at enquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk.

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