There is new hope for the paralyzed. Researchers at the University of Louisville, UCLA and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology conducted a research that involved four paralyzed men with groundbreaking results. The men, all with spinal cord injuries who have been paralyzed for years were able to develop moments in their lower body. With the new treatment, they were able to lift and swing their legs, move their ankle, wiggle their big toe and sit up without support. Two patients were even able to do sit-ups.
The movements were all made possible thanks to a breakthrough research therapy known as epidural stimulation of the spinal cord. The stimulator is surgically implanted into the body and has an external remote control to give it directions. The stimulator delivers electrical currents to the person’s lower spinal cords. These electrical currents mimic the signals which the brain normally transmits to initiate movements in the lower body. When combining the stimulator with rehabilitative therapy, the epidural stimulation intensified. Throughout the study, participants were able to provide more movement with less stimulation.
The epidural stimulation of the spinal cord is still in its infancy. At this stage of the study, paralyzed patients shouldn’t expect this to help them walk. There is still much more work to be done. The stimulator can only enable one leg to work at a time. Patients have to turn the stimulator off, then back on to make the other leg work or to make another set of muscles work. This is another piece of the puzzle toward helping paralyzed people walk again, and it’s another direction researchers can go to help these patients.
The research was made possible and funded by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Leona M and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Jewish Hospital and St Mary’s Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, the University of Louisville Foundation, Frazier Rehab Institute and the University of Louisville Hospital.
According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, approximately six million people live with paralysis. Of the six million, 1,275,000 have spinal cord injuries. With the groundbreaking study, this provides new hope for the millions of people living with paralysis.