Up close and personal with a Neural Prosthesis

Neural prosthesis is not just of science fiction movies or futuristic images. They are being used today by average people giving extraordinary function.

It has been almost 20 years since my spinal cord injury but also nearly that long since I joined the research team testing an implanted neural prosthesis. Under clinical trial for this long, there is a microscope of testing, usage and feedback. There is also a commitment to the technology. Think about it. How old is your smartphone? How many times have you upgraded or repaired it over a 20 year period much less a five year timeframe.

To give you some context, here is the skinny. In 1998 I became a tetraplegic and a year and a half later received an implanted technology allowing me to stand using the power of neural stimulation and the use of my own muscles. The hub of that implanted technology was the IRS-8, an 8 channel stimulating receiver, with eight implanted muscle electrodes. Eight channels equals eight muscles. In 2003, after five years of use, 5 of the 8 electrodes were repaired. Seven years later, in 2010 I became Jen 2.0 upgrading the system from just 8 channels to 24 channels using the original IRS-8 and the newly implanted IST-16 along with more muscle electrodes and some nerve-based electrodes. More channels translated to more function; standing, wheelchair propulsion, floor transfers, trunk control and on. Now again seven years later, in 2017 it is time for a repair and replace. Par for the course; the average cardiac pacemaker is replacde every 5 to 7 years.

In June, the IST-16 stopped working. That was a loss of 16 channels, more than half the system. People have reported that when they lose the use of their neural prosthesis it is like being paralyzed all over again. Once in 2003 and again now, I’m reacquainted with that emotion. Yes, I can still use the original IRS-8; she is still ticking; I can stand but it is not functional. I can do some exercise but not like before. Many of those functional gains; those uses in daily life are gone. It is like being paralyzed again and reminded about how much I rely on technology.

Join me on the next journey to remove and replace. After being a participant in a clinical trial for nearly 20 years, you would think this is all routine. It is not. Every experiment, every testing, every software change and every moment in the lab is a unique experience. See what it is like to be on the inside of a medical device clinical trial. On December 5, the surgeons will begin their work along with the dedicated team of engineers, scientists, clinicians and physical therapists.

For those who are new to neural prosthesis or who would like to get more on the background before this point, here is the link to forward and chapter 1 of the story of becoming Jen 2.0. http://www.onmyfeetagain.org

Note: The statements and views posted here are of my own and do not reflect those of Case Western Reserve University, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Metro Health Medical Center or the National Institutes of Health along with their representives involved with this program. If you are interested in this clinical trial, please visit https://clinicaltrials.gov and search NCT00623389 or NCT01923662