PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lifespan’s Norman Prince Spine Institute and Brown University are working together to research the effectiveness of spinal implants on paralyzed veterans and other patients.

The Intelligent Spine Interface (ISI), developed by the Center for Innovative Neurotechnology for Neural Repair, has the potential to restore limb movement, sensation and bladder control in individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

“The goal is to create an electrical bridge across the site of the spinal cord injury so that we are able to read both above and below the entry of the spine,” explained Dr. Jared Fridley, a neurosurgeon at Lifespan and assistant professor of neurosurgery at Brown University.

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  • A sign on the wall at Lifespan's CINNR that reads "Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute - Department of Neurosurgery - Center for Innovative Neurotechnology for Neural Repair - CINNR."

Dr. Fridley said the only treatment right now for this type of injury is immediate surgery or medication.

“Other than that, we don’t have any treatment options, so if this technology progresses and becomes available for patients, this could be a game-changer for recovery of function,” he added.

This clinical trial designed to test the ISI was launched in 2019 with $6.3 million in Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) funding. Researchers presented their findings to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and House of Representatives on Wednesday as part of DARPA 2023 Demo Day.

“The general reception was overall very positive,” Fridley said. “Our project is pretty unique in terms of what DARPA funds, and this particular area stands out so there was quite a bit of buzz and interest.”

One of the final steps is connecting a pacemaker-like device to spinal implants, which will require FDA approval. As their research continues, Fridley said we’re still a few years away from the technology being widely available to patients.