Year/Course: 2019-2020
Project type: Medical

Inventors: Dr. Christopher Proctor & Vincenzo Curto, Electrical Engineering & Dr. Damiano Barone, Addenbrookes

There are currently two different types of spinal cord implants available to clinicians and patients. These electrically stimulate the spinal nerves as a way of managing chronic pain in patients who are not responsive to opioids. One of these is very effective but requires invasive surgery; the second can be implanted via keyhole surgery but is not as effective in practice.

The research team, which includes researchers from Electrical Engineering and a consultant neurosurgeon from Addenbrookes Hospital, have developed a new spinal cord stimulation device which overcomes the limitations of the existing solutions. Their device can be implanted via keyhole surgery, and then unrolls to lay along the spinal cord. It consists of an array of electrodes which can create a local electric field to influence the spinal nerves, allowing nerve signals to be blocked or strengthened, and also seeming to speed up the process of nerve regrowth.

The use of spinal cord implants for chronic pain management is a well-understood market and is likely to be the first clinical use of the new device.

The question for the i-Team is to investigate where there are other potential clinical applications which justify the use of a surgical implant in this way. Possible areas include improving the rehabilitation of partially paralysed patients, both by aiding nerve signal transmission and stimulating nerve regrowth, or treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. In addition the device could be produced in a modified form to allow implantation directly onto the brain – this gives a further area of possible applications such as in the control of severe epilepsy or even in developing brain-machine interfaces. The i-Team will need to speak with clinical experts and patient groups to identify the areas of greatest need and recommend the best next steps for the inventors.