The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) project engineers from Freiburg University and the Tyndall Institute in Cork, have developed a spinal implant, a new type of microchip muscle stimulator that will enable people with paraplegia to exercise their paralysed leg muscles.

The new implant is as small as size of a child’s fingernail, to be implanted into the spinal canal and incorporates the electrodes and muscle stimulator in one unit.

The EPSRC project is led by professor Andreas Demosthenous from University College London.

Demosthenous said that the work has the potential to stimulate more muscle groups than is currently possible with existing technology because a number of these devices can be implanted into the spinal canal.

"Stimulation of more muscle groups means users can perform enough movement to carry out controlled exercise such as cycling or rowing," Demosthenous said.

The devices could also be used for a wide range of restorative functions such as stimulating bladder muscles to help overcome incontinence and stimulating nerves to improve bowel capacity and suppress spasms.