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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
901 S. Bond Street, Suite 540
Baltimore, Maryland 21231
Phone: (443) 287-9960 | Fax (443) 287-9920

December 2, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Phil Sneiderman
(443) 287-9960
prs@jhu.edu


Blending Biology and Robotics
Research Aimed at Helping Paralyzed Walk Again

Doctoral students Francesco Tenore and Jacob Vogelstein are helping
Doctoral students Francesco Tenore and Jacob Vogelstein are helping Ralph Etienne-Cummings, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop a microchip based on the electrical signals that travel along the spinal cord of a lamprey eel. (photo by Will Kirk)

In a collaboration that blends biology and robotics, researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland are unraveling the circuitry in an eel's spinal cord to help develop a microchip implant that may someday help paralyzed people walk again.

The two-school research team's goal is to make a device that could mimic the signals sent by the brain and coax nerve centers in the lower back into sending "walking" instructions to muscles in a patient's legs.

One challenge is to develop robotic limbs that can move more like
their human counterparts.
Click here to see an example of their work in this area.

"This is a challenging, long-term project, but we believe it has a good chance to succeed," said Ralph Etienne-Cummings, an electronics and robotics expert who is lead researcher on the project at Johns Hopkins. "Our first step is to learn how the brain transmits electrical messages along the spinal cord that tell the legs what to do. Then, we want to make microchips that replicate this process. We've started by modeling the way swimming signals move along the spinal cord of a lamprey eel."

He is working with Avis H. Cohen, who has spent many years studying the lamprey's nervous system and how it directs swimming. Cohen is a professor in the Department of Biology, Neuroscience and Cognitive Science at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Even though the lamprey is a very primitive vertebrate, we and others have shown that it's remarkably like humans in the ways it makes and controls its locomotion," Cohen said.

The researchers are now moving to expand their project by developing a neuroprosthetic implant that would connect to human central pattern generators to restore locomotion in patients with spinal cord injuries.

Etienne-Cummings discusses the project in the video clips, which are in Windows Media format below:

New! Watch a video story about this research in Windows Media format.

How biology solves problems
Next generation of robotic systems that behave like biological systems
Understanding spinal cord systems to help paralyzed people walk again
How neurocircuits are organized in the spinal cord

To read the news release about this collaboration, click here

 

If you have any problems viewing these presentations, please contact Glenn Small at: media@jhu.edu

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