A New Target

Monica A. Perez, P.T., Ph. D. and her colleagues at the University of Miami have produced the first evidence that cortical targets could improve motor function in patients who are paralyzed, specifically by spinal cord injury (SCI). The results of their study have been published in Brain.

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In previous treatments and studies, sites within the central nervous system have been targeted to try to improve motor function. However, whether or not cortical targets — areas on the outer layer of the brain's cerebrum — could improve motor function in patients was unknown.

To explore this potential relationship, the research group noninvasively stimulated the area using magnets. They found that, after this stimulation, the finger muscles of those with SCI exerted more force and produced more electromyographic activity, and the patients' ability to grasp objects with their hands was significantly improved.

The Future of Paralysis

Dr. Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D. Director of the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies Albany, New York, sees great promise in Perez's group's research.

“This study is a major contribution to the realization of a powerful new class of rehabilitation therapies that can target beneficial plasticity to crucial sites in the nervous system,” he said in a news release from The Miami Project. "By taking advantage of recent scientific and technical advances, Dr. Perez’s group produced beneficial change in the cortical circuitry and spinal connections underlying voluntary movement."

This study could be a game-changer for those paralyzed or otherwise coping with SCI. Cortical targets are relatively unexplored territory as far as treatment options are concerned, so as further studies are conducted, new ways to improve motor function in paralyzed patients could emerge.

Even beyond that, we could learn new information on how certain cortical targets could be related to motor function in general, and the more we learn about how our brains function, the closer we come to being able to treat all neurological disorders and create advanced brain computer interfaces (BCIs), mind-controlled exoskeletons, and other technologies.

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