Breakthrough Treatment Helps Paralyzed Patients Walk with Assistance

Stepped Up Spinal Cord Repair Helps Patients Walk Again

Stepped Up Spinal Cord Repair Helps Patients Walk Again

In this experiment, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used electrical implants to bridge the gap in the spinal cord, helping to carry the messages from the brain across the damaged area into a non-damaged part of the spinal cord lower down. With the implant, Mzee can now walk over half a mile while using a walker. The field of spinal cord injury is poised to take a giant leap forward in the treatment of what was until very recently considered incurable: "paralysis". It involves an electrical stimulator surgically implanted at the base of the spine, under the bones but over the spinal cord. "Selected configurations of electrodes are activating specific regions of the spinal cord, mimicking the signals that the brain would deliver to produce walking". 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 other two men who have successfully walked after the implant was inserted are Gertan Oskan, a 35-year-old man from Netherlands who had had a road traffic accident seven years back and Sebastian Tobler, a 48-year-old German who had had a cycle accident a few years back. "The human nervous system responded even more profoundly to the treatment than we expected".

The researchers had to adjust the details for each of the three patients in the study, adapting to the individual measurements of each person's spinal cord. Because it disrupts the connection between the brain and the spinal cord, injuries can lead to motor and sensory deficits or, sometimes, paralysis.

"All the patients could walk using body weight support within one week", says Blotch. All movement was under voluntary control; EES doesn't generate movement on its own. Walking actually came in fourth, behind sexual function, bladder and bowel movement, and the ability to control body posture. This means that when the implant is switched off, he can still walk around eight paces.

The handful of results "is giving us a lot of confidence that this solution is real and even people with complete paralysis can regain stepping movements", says Chet Moritz, an associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington, who wrote an accompanying editorial in Nature about the most recent findings. 'The collision of signals is confusing the brain and the patient, ' she says.

Even within the small group of three patients, the results have been markedly different.

All patients involved in the STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground) study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralysed for many years. All the participants continued to improve during the five-month course of the study, Courtine says. 'Two of them can walk long distances with crutches, ' he adds. BBC news has made research in this aspect and they had got special access to the patients who were getting treated in the clinic.

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