Scientists are reverse engineering a lamprey's nervous system as part of an effort to design a neuroprosthetic implant that could help patients with spinal cord injuries walk. The researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland hope that understanding the eel's spinal cord could reveal ways in which they might tap into the injured spinal cords of humans.
A properly designed implant, they believe, could act in place of the brain and direct these dormant control centers to send the same kind of locomotion signals they did before the spinal cord was injured. "We want to take advantage of circuits that already exist in the body," Etienne-Cummings said. "Instead of stimulating the leg muscles directly, we want to go to the spinal cord and stimulate the nerves that control the muscles in the legs."