November 30, 2011, 5:33 PM — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission adopted rules at a meeting on Wednesday to allow wireless networks of microstimulators designed to treat paralysis and other conditions.
The agency approved the use of MMNs (medical micropower networks) in four blocks of the 400MHz spectrum band despite opposition from broadcast engineers who say they are concerned about interference. One of the frequency blocks is used by trucks that send live media reports back to TV and radio stations.
Microstimulators implanted next to nerves can stimulate those nerves through electrical charges, causing muscles to contract and limbs to move. MMNs can link dozens of those stimulators to devices that take in signals from the human nervous system, bypassing areas of the nervous system that have been impaired by strokes or spinal cord or brain injuries.
The Alfred Mann Foundation (AMF), which has developed prototype MMNs, sought access to the spectrum for these systems in 2009. It did not seek exclusive access to the frequencies and said the new networks could coexist with other users. In a press release on Wednesday, the FCC called the new rules an example of how "spectrum-agile" radios can make more efficient use of scarce spectrum.
In a related development, the agency's Office of Engineering and Technology issued an order allowing Second Sight Medical Products to sell a retinal prosthesis that uses wireless transmissions to restore sight to the blind through a miniature video camera mounted on a pair of glasses. The camera sends images to a video processing unit, and the video is then sent wirelessly to a neurostimulator implanted on the eye. It is designed for people with advanced retinal degenerative disease.