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ONWARD: monkey SCI research ‘shows potential for humans’

Neurotech pioneers ONWARD have hailed the groundbreaking research



Research in monkeys which revealed the potential for people with spinal cord injury to regain some upper limb function through electrical stimulation has been hailed by ONWARD as showing its potential in humans. 

The pioneering study with macaque monkeys showed that, while not enough to restore the arm function completely, stimulation significantly improved precision, force and range of movement, allowing each animal to move its arm more efficiently. 

The animals also continued to improve as they adapted and learned how to use stimulation.

The research has been hailed by ONWARDpioneers of electrical stimulation technology which aims to restore movement, strength and function among people with spinal cord injury – as showing the potential for its ARC IM Therapy in restoring movement and function in hands and arms after paralysis. 

As part of its suite of intellectual property agreements with EPFL, ONWARD has the rights to develop and commercialise cervical spinal cord stimulation therapy to improve hand and arm function in people with spinal cord injury.

“We are preparing to launch our transcutaneous ARC EX Therapy to restore hand and arm function in 2023,” said Dave Marver, CEO of ONWARD. 

”The findings from this publication suggest there may also be a role for implanted ARC IM Therapy to help people with spinal cord injury regain arm and hand function. 

“Indeed, the greater precision and 24/7 availability of implanted ARC IM Therapy may offer meaningful support for activities of daily living.”

Its ARC IM technology showed its capability in the recent STIMO BRIDGE study, where its implantable stimulation device enabled three paralysed patients to regain the ability to take steps the very next day, as well as to walk, swim and/or cycle within five months of rehabilitation.  

Regaining hand and arm function is the highest priority for many people with cervical spinal cord injury, with even mild deficits leading to reduced independence and quality of life. 

Through ONWARD’s ARC EX device, which is set to launch next year, positive provisional results are being reported through the Up-LIFT pivotal trial. 

“Small improvements in hand and arm function offer large benefits in independence and quality of life,” said Grégoire Courtine, professor at EPFL and co-author of the research paper.

“Current approaches such as functional electrical stimulation (FES) induce fatigue and fail to sustain the three-dimensional movements required for activities of daily life.

“We look forward to studying this approach in humans within the next several months and working with ONWARD to potentially commercialize this important therapy.”

The publication features preclinical research performed by neuroscientists at EPFL, University of Fribourg, and University of Pittsburgh. The research initiative was sponsored by the Wyss Foundation, ONWARD, the Bertarelli Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.