Neuroprostheses to improve locomotor control after spinal cord injury
Worldwide, millions of people suffer from paralyzing injuries. Reversing paralysis is a complex challenge that requires a combination of rehabilitation strategies and the nervous system’s innate ability to adapt. In motor disorders due to spinal cord injury, the extricate dialogue between brain and spinal motor circuits is disrupted. With time, the central nervous system reorganizes to compensate for lost functions. This process, so called neuroplasticity, is the foundation of physical therapy, which allows people with neurotrauma, after long periods and intense efforts, to recover some ability to walk. A promising avenue is to take advantage of the remaining communication channels between the brain and the spinal cord that can potentially be activated in order to restore function. Neuroprosthetics are now being developed to precisely and timely activate spared neural circuits that are essential for generating coordinated movements. Starting from the main achievements in rehabilitation to-date, a presentation of novel neuroprosthetic devices for locomotor control will be presented and discussed, covering both the area of functional recovery and of neuroplasticity.
Dr Marina Martinez is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montreal, Canada. She has had a long-standing interest in spinal cord injury research with a focus on the mechanisms supporting recovery of walk. Her lab uses animal models and a systems neuroscience approach to test strategies aimed at guiding recovery. Her work is funded by the main federal and provincial agencies in addition to strong support from the Department of Neurosciences and from the Centre de Recherche de l’Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur, two centres of excellence in Neuroscience and traumatology research.