Electro-stimulation helps paraplegic patients walk again


"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.

"Within a few days, people who had been paralysed for a few years could make stepping movements."
Mzee has now regained some ability to walk thanks to a breakthrough in spinal-cord stimulation technology.

"If you think about cutting the head off a chicken, it can still walk around". "Now I can walk short distances with the help of electrical stimulation and even without electrical stimulation", he says.

The spinal cord carries messages from the brain to other parts of the body, allowing us to move our limbs, feel sensations like pressure or temperature, and control vital functions. He said that her daughter started walking when she was about 14 months old and at that time David was walking besides the Geneva Lake. It is the third study of its kind, the previous two conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville and the Mayo Clinic. While they point to the current study as a validation of the idea that continuous EES would have limited success in humans, future studies would need to work on understanding and predicting which patients would be likely to benefit most-this technique is far from ready to be rolled out across the board.

"In our method, we implant an array of electrodes over the spinal cord which allows us to target individual muscle groups in the legs", said Lausanne University Hospital neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch. "The targeted stimulation must be as precise as a Swiss watch".

"If we can stimulate the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system at the same time, the additive effects could restart touch perception and movement in some people". The exact timing and location of the electrical signal are crucial in producing the intended movement.

"When you close your eyes, you know where your leg is, without having to look at it", Oxley said. He had had a sporting injury seven years back that caused severe spine damage and led to paralysis waist down.

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All the people in the study were able to recover voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralyzed for many years.

The stimulation begins with a pulse directed at a muscle to prompt the patient to begin movement, for example a step.

During rehabilitation sessions, the three participants were able to walk hands-free over 1km with the help of targeted electrical stimulation and an intelligent bodyweight-support system. As a result, patients have improved motor function even when the electrical stimulation has been turned off.

"I can support more and more weight on my legs and have more and more control with my legs", said Tobler, 47, who had both legs completely paralyzed after a 2013 mountain biking accident.

But none of the researchers would say that a full cure for paralysis is on its way, based on this research. The real life procedures are not almost as extreme, but they have helped three patients get back on their feet through what it called patterned stimulation. "This is the first possible treatment that can potentially change the course of rehabilitation outcome in terms of walking".

The study appears in the journal Nature, along with a companion study in Nature Neuroscience.

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