Synchron to begin trials of world’s first paralysis brain implant

US developer of neuromodulation devices, Synchron, has raised $10 million to begin human trials of its world’s first endovascular neural interface technology, Stentrode, to help paralysed patients control assistive devices. 

Led by Neurotechnology Investors, the series A round also included the US Department of Defense, specifically the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The new funds will go towards a 2018 first-in-human clinical trial for the Stentrode device – a small, mesh-like construct with the potential to help paralysed patients control assistive technologies, such as robotic limbs or exoskeletons.

The device sits within the carotid artery – the major blood vessel in the brain – and is positioned via cerebral angiography.

As the process involves threading a flexible catheter via a major artery elsewhere in the body to its final destination in the brain, implantation of the device does not require open brain surgery or any direct contact with brain tissue.

The delivery method may also reduce the risk of the device being rejected by brain tissue – a major obstacle experienced by similar technologies.

“We have designed a product to attempt to overcome the greatest challenge facing other neural interfaces: chronic brain tissue scarring,” said Thomas Oxley, founder and CEO of Synchron. “We aim to provide a safe way for patients with severe paralysis to achieve direct brain control of assistive devices.”

Pre-clinical testing of Stentrode indicated the device’s ability to pick up high-frequency electrical data from the brain.

Stentrode’s approach to alleviating paralysis is unique in a field where many are relying on brain implantation to achieve similar results.

In April last year, a world first was achieved when a quadriplegic man partially regained the use of his hand thanks to an implant in the motor cortex region of the brain.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is also working on neural interfacing solutions through its BrainGate research team. The team is currently recruiting for a pilot study for its BrainGate2 Neural Interface System – a technology that involves the implantation of a small chip on the surface of the brain that translates thoughts into electrical signals relayed to assistive equipment.

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