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The Bionic Body


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Ernest Byron Marsolais was born in Adams County, Iowa. Marsolais graduated from the University of Iowa, where he went on to obtain his medical degree in 1963. He also holds a Master's degree and Ph. D in Mechanics and Hydraulics, which he completed at the University of Iowa in 1969.

Since 1970, Marsolais has held multiple professorships at Case Western Reserve University and School of Medicine. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Orthopaedics. He is an investigator with the Cleveland FES Center and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Center of Excellence on FES Center as well as the Director of the Division of Rehabilitation in the Department of Orthopaedics at CWRU School of Medicine.

A prolific author, Marsolais is also an editorial reviewer for several professional journals. He is also President of the Orthopedic Rehabilitation Association for 2000-2001.

Marsolais is married and has one child.


For links to this scientist's home page and other related infomation please see our resources page.

Marsolais responds :

4.10.01 Penny asked:
At what level of injury could a person get the ability to stand and transfer with a FES system? How many centers are actually doing this?

Marsolais' response:
To qualify for the Cleveland FES Center's multicenter study of the implanted standing transfer system, an individual must have a spinal cord injury at the C6 (cervical level) to T12 (thoracic level). There are many other qualifying factors as well. Detailed information is available from the Projects area of our web site. Currently, 3 centers have enrolled research participants in this research program. This trial is funded with support from the Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Orphan Product Development and the National Institutes of Health.

4.10.01 Janet asked:
I was so amazed watching the program on how FES works. I work in a geriatic population here in Omaha, NE. Is there a particular age group that you consider for this procedure? What are the indications and contraindications? There is no doubt that a lot of people can benefit from this breakthrough. Where can I get more information regarding the procedure?

Marsolais' response:
Theoretically, there is no real limit on age although most of our research participants with spinal cord injury are young to middle-aged adults. Some research groups are studying the use of permanent implants in growing children with paralysis. Studies in geriatric individuals at our center have been directed toward stroke survivors and use less extensive implanted components. Sufficient cognitive ability to understand the use of the system is an important factor. Detailed information on Cleveland FES Center research is available from the Projects area of our web site.

4.10.01 Christina asked:
Is there a difference between "external functional stimulation" and the FES system discussed on the show?

Marsolais' response:
Yes, though the outcomes might be similar and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Most would consider "external functional stimulation" as systems working with electrodes that apply to the skin like a bandaid. In this case, the cost is relatively low and the system is non-invasive. The user puts on the entire system each time he or she uses it. However, it can be difficult to place the electrodes correctly, and sometimes the stimulation activates the pain nerves near the skin's surface, making the usage uncomfortable. The internal system highlighted in the program for standing and transfer assistance, stepping or hand grasp, requires surgery to implant. Putting the system on each day only requires placement of an antenna coil over the implant stimulator receiver and the system does not typically activate pain fibers. Users indicate that these are advantages of the internal system.

4.10.01 Tom asked:
I think your system is very interesting and I see how it could benefit many people. I was curious exactly how and what the input system is made of and how it works. I have researched systems that directly connect, but nothing like this. As a professional artist I would also like to volunteer if you need any help in art and graphics department for your project for your beneficial research.

Marsolais' response:
The system consists of an external computer/controller that attaches to an antenna coil. The antenna coil is placed over an implanted stimulator receiver that generates the actual stimulation charge. Lead wires carry the charge underneath the skin to implanted electrodes that are connected to the muscle to be activated. The electrode delivers the charge to the nerve, causing a muscle contraction and producing the actual movement. Depending on which type of FES system he or she uses, the user tells the computer/controller what movement he desires with a finger switch, a switch on the controller, or an external or implanted joystick. The computer/controller is custom-programmed with movement patterns for each individual user. Thanks for your offer to volunteer.

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