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  1.  (9881.1)
    This was published today...

    ...and just when I thought I was starting to understand what they have done, something in my brain exploded and I lost it again.

    Is the device teaching him to use his nervous system again despite the damage, or is it more reflexive than that?

    I guess what really blew my mind was this:

    At first, "none of us believed it," Edgerton said. "We have no idea what the mechanisms are, but we are pretty sure it has resulted in changes in the brain."

    Is there a Doctor in the house?
  2.  (9881.2)
    Sometimes you've just got to say, "Fuck you, God. Fuck you, fate. We are humanity. We came from the mud and have touched the sky. We knock down mountains with the flick of a switch. We made four Billy Jack movies. We laugh at your petty ministrations."
    • CommentTimeMay 20th 2011 edited
    A lot of things we thought about nerve tissue, both brain and spinal, are turning out to be . . . well, not false, but not quite what we thought either. Some remarkable things are happening with brain plasticity, where one part of a damaged brain takes on functions previously handled by the damaged area. Just what's going on is a bit of a mystery, but Herman Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself is full of tantalizing anecdotes. One strong theme is that the damaged function must be given assisted exercise for replacement or recovery to occur. From the article above, it sounds like the spinal implant serves that function.

    Unfortunately I can't really recommend Doidge's book. It's long on anecdote and short on science, and as a storyteller, he's not all that good. Still, there's some promising stuff there.
  3.  (9881.4)
    In order for the working parts of the brain to "take over" the jobs previously performed by the damaged parts, is it necessary that the patient previously was able to perform those actions? For example, if you'll forgive it, if a baby received damage to the motor parts of it's brain, is there the potential that it could still learn to walk by recruiting a different part of the brain, or is muscle memory important here?
    • CommentTimeMay 21st 2011
    Seems to vary by function and by person.
    • CommentAuthorErisah
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011 edited
    @magnusisasillyname: Just having read the article (which wasn't really detailed enough to tell for sure), it looks like the stimulation device is either somehow bridging the gap between damaged nerves, or (more likely) increasing/amplifying stimulation to what nerve cells remain so that the signal, which previously was unable to get through, can (like the hearing aid analogy given in the article).
    If this is the case, then it it quite possible that the leg motor coordination parts of the patient's brain which would have been relatively inactive, would be re-wiring to accommodate the new signal. There's a "use it or lose it" thing as far as neuroplasticity within the brain goes. If the patient was a kid, this would be a whole lot more drastic, (and with more impressive results) because growing brains have a far, far higher grade of neuroplasticity (thus the reason why there is the idea of a "sensitive period" for learning many things like language skills, etc).
    There are case studies of children who have had to have hemispherectomies (half their brain removed) due to chronic epilepsy, whose brains have re-wired to the point that they fell within fairly normal ranges of intelligence and motor development. As far as your baby example, it depends on how far the baby was in their motor development, and how much of the brain was damaged, as to how "muscle memory" responded. It should be noted that the "memory" part of "muscle memory" is stored primarily in the brain, whereas the rest of it is down to muscle tone and neuron signal strength, with more practiced movements having more efficient neural pathways, and more exercised muscles to work with.
  4.  (9881.7)

    Thanks for that, I think I understand it a bit better now. I look forward to reading about further developments in this.
  5.  (9881.8)
    @magnusisasillyname: Thank you for blowing my mind today. As someone with some (minor) spinal chord damage, news like this makes my nightmares a little less scary. If the device they implanted is what I think it is, it's actually something I almost got myself.

    One key thing to note about this particular patient... he could still feel his legs. That means some signal was still getting through. This treatment wouldn't work for everyone.

    Also, the point the article made that everyone is overlooking for the far more sexy "walking again," he regained control of his bladder and bowels! That is a huge quality of life improvement right there. (and "some sexual function" is probably nice too) I've never had the joys of a colostomy bag, and I pray to that I never do, but walking around trying to live my life with a catheter was an extremely traumatic experience. Personally, I'd rather roll in a wheel chair, thankyouverymuch.