A device the size of a small paperclip, created to give people with severe paralysis the ability to communicate again, has been approved for its first-in-human clinical trial - an early feasibility study (EFS) of the safety of the device - at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. Five patients, living within two hours of Melbourne, with a range of conditions including spinal cord injury, stroke, muscular dystrophy, or motor neurone disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) will be recruited during 2019 to trial the device.

Dr Thomas Oxley was awarded the Grant Mackenzie Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia (MNDRIA) Research Grant for a 12 month project in 2018. The project aimed to develop the software and switch interface for the Stentrode implant to assist communication in people with MND. The Stentrode technology is the only existing method of extracting brain signals from within a blood vessel, which mitigates the risks associated with open-brain surgery. 

The Stentrode is a device that is placed inside a blood vessel of the brain located in an area that controls movement (motor cortex).  Once implanted, the Stentrode picks up signals and transmits the signals to artificial intelligence software, that could help a person communicate or control a computer.

 The Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia (MNDRIA) awards grants to support research that is innovative and relevant to understanding the causes of MND and developing effective treatments and better care for people with MND. The Grant Mackenzie MNDRIA grant was named in recognition of a $100,000 donation received from Grant Mackenzie who was living with MND in WA. At the time of Grant’s very generous donation he was rapidly losing his ability to speak due to the increasing paralysis of the muscles controlling his speech and swallowing.

“This research may help us find safer and more effect ways to introduce electrical sensors to patients. This could help the development of more user-friendly biotechnology for patients with neurological conditions. It may also help to better understand how the human brain works in general,” said A/Prof Oxley.

The trial will take place in Melbourne, Australia at The Royal Melbourne and Bethlehem Hospitals from mid-2019. For more information see SWITCH Study or the Australian New Zealand Cinical Trials Register - Stentrode.

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