Health Care

Trio of paraplegics walk again thanks to electrical stimulation

Trio of paraplegics walk again thanks to electrical stimulation”

His left leg has been paralyzed ever since 2010, but now, thanks to the spinal cord stimulation, he can perform operations like extending the knee, moving toes and flexing the hip. The implanted device was developed to treat pain, but when combined with 5 months of intensive physical therapy, it restored movement years after a paralyzing injury, researchers reported yesterday in Nature.

The research represents cutting-edge progress in the field of spinal cord injuries, according to Sylvia Gustin, neuroscientist and psychologist at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and the University of New South Wales, who was not involved in the study. While he can take a few steps with crutches or stand up with another person for support, "I should be able to have a BBQ standing on my own in the near future". 'Unbelievable!' Courtine's postdocs said.

Implants have been used precisely in order to overcome gaps in the spinal cord and transmit signals from the brain through the damaged areas of the spine. The STIMO study, led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland, is published in the 1 November 2018 issues of Nature and Nature Neuroscience.

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.

"It was the first time I've seen the recovery of voluntary movement without stimulation, which is true neurological recovery", Professor Courtine said.

"The result was completely unexpected", he added, in a video released with the publication of the research in the journal Nature Thursday.

"The thought is that somehow there's a command coming down from the brain telling the lower limbs to move, and somehow the stimulation is enabling that", she says.

"Academically, we're going to be stuck". 'It's enhancing the brain's ability to control the legs.

Going forward, Courtine said he hoped to see the technique combined with biological treatments involving nerve fix.

The promising treatment shows that the brain and spinal cord can re-establish a connection and people can regain some control over parts of the body they had lost use of.

"We have sufficient evidence to use these treatments in the early stage after spinal cord injury, when the potential for growth of new nerve connections is higher, and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy".

In Courtine's study, the three participants got 16 small electrodes implanted on the lower portion of their spinal cords.

"We believe it can be rolled out in a very real way within the next three to five years, which is phenomenal for Australia."

"We're developing a virtual reality walking intervention to restore touch perception in people with some types of spinal injury", she said. And so the researchers set about understanding how the nervous system responded to movements in every joint in healthy individuals, building up a "map" of what these activation patterns looked like.



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