Researchers advance the design of implants for electrical stimulation

Researchers at Rice University have developed new implants for implantation in patients with spinal cord injuries that provide electrical stimulation. The new research investigates the ability to power and program multisite bio stimulators using a single transmitter. In the laboratory, the researchers showed an alternating magnetic field generated and controlled by a battery-power transmitter outside the body, potentially worn on a belt or harness, could deliver power and programming to two or more implants that are at least 2.3 inches away.The implants can be programmed with delays that are measured in microseconds that could enable them to coordinate and trigger multiple wireless pacemakers in separate chambers of the patient's heart. The team showed that it's possible to program the implants to stimulate in a coordinated pattern with the ability to synchronize every device.

According to the researchers, the synchronization gives a degree of freedom for stimulation treatments, whether for cardiac pacing or treating spinal cord injuries. The implants tested at the lab were about the size and weight of a vitamin and were tested on live hydra vulgaris tissue samples and in rodents. Experiments proved that the devices were able to stimulate two separate hydra over a short distance to activate a fluorescence tag in response to electrical signals.

The implants were also able to trigger a response at controlled amplitudes along a rodent's sciatic nerve. The device the lab-created is called MagNI, short for magnetoelectrical neural implants. The implants were introduced last year as a possible spinal cord stimulator that doesn't need wires to power and program. A lack of wires means there's no need for leads to poke through the patient's skin, reducing the risk of infection.

Current devices able to divide the sort of stimulation are battery-powered and have to be replaced via surgery every few years. Refining the system is ongoing, and the team is continuing the research.