Paralyzed Patients Walk Again After Targeted Spinal Cord Stimulation

Stepped Up Spinal Cord Repair Helps Patients Walk Again

David Mzee, 28, suffered full paralysis of his left leg after an accident in 2010, but after the five-month program, he can walk for up to two hours with a walker using electrical stimulation, or take steps over shorter distances by himself. "The human nervous system responded even more profoundly to the treatment than we expected".

There were three of the total paralyzed men who were told that they wouldn't be able to walk again in their lives and they would spend the rest of their lives by simply being in wheelchairs.

"We are building next-generation neurotechnology that will also be tested very early post-injury, when the potential for recovery is high and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy that follows chronic paralysis", said Courtine.

The device - implanted around the injured men's spines - not only enhanced the signals between the brains and legs of the patients, it also prompted the regrowth of damaged nerves.

When the stimulation was fed in pulses that worked in conjunction with the proprioceptive system, patients achieved remarkable improvement in their ability to move previously paralyzed legs in coordination, the researchers said.

Another patient, Sebastian Tobler, said he can now walk a few steps hands-free in the lab with the aid of electrical stimulation. "We think it acts as an [electrical] amplifier for the spinal cord.' Whereas other researchers" implants have provided continuous electrical stimulation, Courtine's version fired electrical pulses in rhythmic patterns that mimic the brain and spinal cord's natural signaling. "It doesn't need the brain to walk", Oxley said.

An unfortunate result of spinal cord injuries is that nervous system communication can become severely disrupted, resulting in the loss of neurological functions and ultimately, paralysis. The exact timing and location of the electrical signal are crucial in producing the intended movement. "If you could stimulate those, you could try to cause movement". Within one week of starting the study, all the participants could walk using body weight support. It can simultaneously deliver electrical impulses and pharmacological substances - whilst risks of rejection and/or damage to the spinal cord have been reduced.

Unlike the findings of two independent studies published recently in the USA on a similar concept, neurological function was shown to persist beyond training sessions even when the electrical stimulation was turned off. "They might not walk around, but they will feel better and will have a lot of health benefits associated with this mobilization of their body". "The patients - they have to do it".

"Cure is a very strong word, and this is not a cure", Oxley said. The results of the experiment were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature and an accompanying article was published in the Nature Neuroscience.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has more about functional electrical stimulation.

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