“We breakthroughs that made it to the MIT

“We
live in a time when the words impossible and unsolvable are no longer part of
the scientific community’s vocabulary.” As vice chairman of the National
Organization on Disability, Christopher Reeve spoke these words in 1999 while testifying
in front of Congress.  Reeve was right;
the scientific community will never wave the white flag. In 2014, eight years
after a bicycling accident caused paralysis from his shoulders down, Bill
Kochevar was able to feed himself and “drink coffee through a straw” (Cheng). Most
people assume that someone suffering from a spinal cord injury dreams only of
being able to walk again, but drinking a cup of coffee certainly has its perks.
A “neural bypass” is what allowed Kochevar to achieve this movement in his arm again,
but use of this technology is limited to the lab thus far. Antonio Regalado writes
about this new technology in the article Reversing
Paralysis, one of the top ten breakthroughs that made it to the MIT
Technology Review in 2017. There are several reasons why this new brain implant
made the top 10 list:  (or-is so important):
increased public awareness of paralysis, use of technology in the human body,
and recent advancements.

The
first reason that this technology made the MIT list is the public’s increased
awareness of paralysis. After a devastating injury from a horseback riding
accident, actor Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic in 1995. Reeve devoted
the remainder of his life advocating stem cell research and speaking out about
spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Five years after his death, a 2009 article
in The New York Times announced that The
Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation would be releasing a new study on
paralysis in the United States. The report indicated that “far more Americans
than previously estimated were paralyzed to some degree:  5.6 million people, representing 1.9 percent
of the population, or roughly 1 in 50 Americans” (Rabin). The study also pointed
to spinal cord injury as the second leading cause of paralysis, after stroke. A
staggering 1.275 million Americans were shown to be paralyzed by spinal cord
injuries alone, which was “five times the previous estimate” (Rabin). Sadly,
the idiom “out of sight, out of mind” applies in so many cases. People and
organizations need to take the initiative, examine the facts, and bring these
problems to light. Raising awareness of paralysis by publishing these startling
statistics certainly had an impact on the push for research and funding, and
proves that reversing paralysis is important to not just a few, but millions of
people in the United States alone.

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The
second reason that neural bypass made the top 10 list is the way in which it utilizes
technology. While stem cell use continues to confront controversy, and scientists
discover and research methods to repair or regenerate nerve cells, neural
bypass, also referred to as brain-spine interface, works in a completely different
way. Two separate devices are implanted in the subject, one in the brain and the
other in the spine “on either side of the injury” (Senthilingam). Basically, similar
to a two-way radio, these two “implants communicate with each other through a
computer and enable brain signals to jump over the point of injury along the
spine” (Senthilingam). In addition to paralysis, “scientists hope to use
so-called neural prosthetics to reverse blindness . . . and perhaps restore
memories lost to Alzheimer’s disease” (Regalado). While this unique approach is
not offering an actual cure, it can drastically improve the quality of life for
individuals who are affected by paralysis.

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