Originally published December 9 2011
Advanced electrical stimulation technology can repair damaged nerves, restore neuron function with virtually no side effects
by Jonathan Benson, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Patients suffering from nerve damage or paralysis may soon be able to better regain function, thanks to a new electrical stimulation technique developed by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, Mass., and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Science Daily reports that the new method of functional electrical stimulation (FES) reduces electrical output by 40 percent and better protects surrounding nerves and tissues from damage by focusing energy directly to the damaged site.
Published in the journal Nature Materials, the findings reveal a method of stimulating neuronal activity in patients with nerve damage that is superior to traditional FES technologies. By reducing the amount of electrical current emitted and better concentrating it into damaged areas, scientists have successfully developed a safer and more efficient method of helping nerve-damaged patients regain function with less damaging side effects.
"This new device works by manipulating the concentration of charged ions surrounding the nerve," said Samuel J. Lin, MD, a surgeon at BIDMC's Divisions of Plastic Surgery and Otolaryngology, Assistant Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and co-author of the study. "This could potentially mean reduced risk to surrounding nerves because less electrical current is required to stimulate the affected nerve."
Since sensory nerves and the nerves that control movements are located very closely together, reducing both the amount of electrical current as well as its spread is crucial to maximizing the benefits and reducing the side effects of FES treatments. And after experimenting with the various ions in the fluid that surrounds nerves, the research team discovered that removing the positively charged calcium ions helps to focus the electrical current on the damaged nerve areas while protecting the healthy areas.
"Nerve fibers fire their signals based on the message they receive from the interaction of ions, or charged particles," added Lin. "The nerves that control movements and the sensory nerves that carry pain signals are extremely close together, so existing FES therapy has had limitations. This (new discovery) is an important step towards the design of a device to help patients suffering from nerve paralysis and chronic neurological conditions."
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