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The Next Big Thing
Wearables that are changing livesBrian Cooley looks at technology that really connects to your body, beyond Google Glass or Apple Watch. It's called an epidural stimulator.
[MUSIC] Let's get a look at a technology that is admittedly outside of our normal purview. But, one that makes wearables like apple watch or google glass look almost distance and trivial by comparison. It's called epidural stimulation. An electrical stimulator pack is implanted in the body and then has 16 electrodes that are finely wired to it. They then connect onto an injured part of the spine. Of someone whose had a traumatic spine injury. Now these implanted electronics are not actually intercepting anything from the brain. There's no brain wave detection. No head gear. It's actually simpler and more robust. A little hand held controller. Talks to the pack inside, which then relays signals to the spine, itself, to create the muscle movement. Those signals, in turn, prompt and almost remind, the damaged part of the spinal cord how to move things, like muscles in the hips, knees, ankles, or feet. Now, since these aren't actual finesse signals from the brain, with that whole complex feedback loop. The movements right now are rather basic, things like standing, with just a little help, wiggling your toes, major steps for Onassis technology even bigger ones for a person who thought they would ever move those limbs again. What the researchers and doctors didn't see coming was the improved muscle tone along the lower extremities [INAUDIBLE] That therefor is able to improve blood pressure control because of that better tone around major arteries and veins. And that in turn is part of what's helping this patient also get better bowel, bladder, and sexual function control. None of this was expected, they were just trying to move limbs. Dr Susan Harkema is one of the pioneers of implanting this technology. She's at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center working with UCLA and the Pavlov Institute. And with a lot of funding from, as you might imagine, the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation. The device itself is made by Medtronic, kind of in a. Their original design was for the product to be using electronic spine stimulation to solve chronic pain, not move muscles. This is early days technology,only four patients in the world have had this installed right now but they've seen consistent long term benefit from it. The next steps I'm told are to get more close to mimicking the actual signals and the feedback loop that the brain and healthy spinal chord are able to exert over muscles. That will lead to more nuance and control in muscle function.