What gives us fingertip dexterity?

In a novel experiment, a USC biomedical engineer examines the intricate circuitry between hand manipulation skills and specialized neural circuits in the brain

Quickly moving your fingertips to tap or press a surface is essential for everyday life to, say, pick up small objects, use a BlackBerry or an iPhone. But researchers at the University of Southern California say that this seemingly trivial action is the result of a complex neuro-motor-mechanical process orchestrated with precision timing by the brain, nervous system and muscles of the hand

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Scientists restore walking after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord damage blocks the routes that the brain uses to send messages to the nerve cells that control walking. Until now, doctors believed that the only way for injured patients to walk again was to re-grow the long nerve highways that link the brain and base of the spinal cord. For the first time, a UCLA study shows that the central nervous system can reorganize itself and follow new pathways to restore the cellular communication required for movement.

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Researchers take first steps towards spinal cord reconstruction following injury

A new study has identified what may be a pivotal first step towards the regeneration of nerve cells following spinal cord injury, using the body’s own stem cells.

This seminal study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, identifies key elements in the body’s reaction to spinal injury, critical information that could lead to novel therapies for repairing previously irreversible nerve damage in the injured spinal cord.

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Blood clotting protein may inhibit spinal cord regeneration

Fibrinogen, a blood-clotting protein found in circulating blood, has been found to inhibit the growth of central nervous system neuronal cells, a process that is necessary for the regeneration of the spinal cord after traumatic injury. The findings by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, may explain why the human body is unable to repair itself after most spinal cord injuries.

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Nanomedicine opens the way for nerve cell regeneration

The ability to regenerate nerve cells in the body could reduce the effects of trauma and disease in a dramatic way. In two presentations at the NSTI Nanotech 2007 Conference, researchers describe the use of nanotechnology to enhance the regeneration of nerve cells. In the first method, developed at the University of Miami, researchers show how magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) may be used to create mechanical tension that stimulates the growth and elongation of axons of the central nervous system neurons. The second method from the University of California, Berkeley uses aligned nanofibers containing one or more growth factors to provide a bioactive matrix where nerve cells can regrow.
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Robotic exoskeleton replaces muscle work

A robotic exoskeleton controlled by the wearer’s own nervous system could help users regain limb function, which is encouraging news for people with partial nervous system impairment, say University of Michigan researchers.

The ankle exoskeleton developed at U-M was worn by healthy subjects to measure how the device affected ankle function. The U-M team has no plans to build a commercial exoskeleton, but their results suggest promising applications for rehabilitation and physical therapy, and a similar approach could be used by other groups who do build such technology.
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Conceptualizing a cyborg

Investigators at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine describe the basis for developing a biological interface that could link a patient’s nervous system to a thought-driven artificial limb. Their conceptual framework – which brings together years of spinal-cord injury research – is published in the January issue of Neurosurgery.

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