Mon, 03 Sep 2012 02:14:17 GMT

New electronic device helps paralysed people walk again

London, Sep 2 (PTI) Scientists have developed an electronic implant that can help paralysed people walk again.

A British surgical team carried out the treatment on four patients, allowing them to walk once more, the Daily Express reported.

The device, made by a German firm is designed for victims of stroke or brain damage whose nervous systems have been impaired.

A patient fitted with the device in July had recovered sufficiently to take part in the Torch relay through London earlier this week.

The woman, in her 20s, had suffered a brain injury in a road accident and could not walk.

"It is amazing to see patients who had a useless withered limb walking again almost normally. One of our first patients went back to work after many years off following a stroke. She had been unable to cope around the home let alone going to work. Now she has resumed her career," Orthopaedic consultant Dr Michael Jauch, leading the programme, said.

''ActiGait'' is only available privately at one clinic at present but the hope is that it will eventually become accessible to National Health Service (NHS) patients.

Stroke patients and other brain damage victims are often unable to walk because nerve signals no longer reach their legs. By implanting an electronic stimulator into the upper thigh, signals are sent by a buried wire to muscles in the calf and foot.

A tiny computer on the waist sends radio signals via an external antenna to the stimulator. It then fires an electrical current to the calf muscles where an electrode is fitted.

The circuit is completed by a small switch worn in the user''s shoe, which makes sure the foot does not hit the ground too hard. It also lets the stimulator know when to deliver another shock to the calf muscles.

Patients control the nerve stimulation by adjusting the settings.

"It''s easy to use and patients walk normally within minutes of us turning on the computer," Jauch was quoted as saying by the paper.

The implant by firm Ottobock is powered by a rechargeable external unit. The implant is expected to last at least 10 years while the external batteries on the control unit and foot switch need changing every two years.

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