New technology helps patients walk again

May 01, 2003, vol. 27, no. 1
By Diane Luckow



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As one of Canada's top-ranked comprehensive universities, SFU has no medical school. Yet 130 faculty and their students, representing departments ranging from gerontology to molecular biology and biochemistry, are involved in ground-breaking medical and health-related research. “We want to depart from the conventional clinical models of health research and education,”says President Michael Stevenson. “By drawing on our interdisciplinary strengths, there are very real opportunities in areas such as health promotion and population health to explore.” These stories showcase SFU's prowess in the medical and health research field.

Some victims of stroke or spinal cord paralysis may actually walk again if a new technology developed by SFU kinesiologist Andy Hoffer and SFU spinoff company Neurostream Technologies Inc. succeeds in upcoming clinical feasibility trials.


Hoffer's research into the electrical stimulation of nerves has resulted in a potential new tool to help people who have footdrop, a condition in which one foot is paralyzed and can no longer be used for walking.

Neurostream will soon pilot a device called NeurostepTM which uses Hoffer's nerve cuff electrodes to detect sensory nerve signals generated by skin pressure receptors.

The NeurostepTM system includes two NeurocuffsTM, propretary NeurolinkTM nerve signal amplifiers, feature detection software and a pacemaker-like electrical stimulation unit. The battery-operated device will be implanted in the patient's thigh.

Using the Neurocuffs for sensing and stimulating, the device will automatically monitor the position of the affected foot throughout the walking cycle, based on activity patterns recorded from sensory neurons on the sole of the foot. The device will electrically activate peroneal nerve flexor motor nerves so that the paralyzed ankle's dorsiflexor muscles contract at appropriate times during the step cycle, permitting the patient to walk again.

To date the device has passed all pre-clinical testing and third-party safety testing and has been cleared by the medical device board of Canada for the first pilot feasibility study in patients to be carried out in Vancouver.

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