Paralyzed Man Partially Regains Ability To Walk With Spinal Cord Implants

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When an injury interrupts the connection between the spinal cord and brain, it prevents signals from reaching below the site of the injury, EES can help to bridge the gap by providing electrical signals to the spinal cord below the injury site.

Implanted electrodes that provide direct electrical stimulation to the spinal cord have been shown to allow movement of previously paralyzed legs. In ongoing tests of the system, the patients were able to adjust the length and speed of their strides and to walk on a treadmill for an hour-traveling the equivalent of up to one kilometer. Tobler is one of three patients in this study, published Wednesday in Nature, who regained movement in their lower limbs with the aid of implanted electrical stimulators.

A man with a spinal-cord injury leaving him wheelchair bound has been able to walk thanks to a revolutionary new spinal implant.

In the first two reports, the implants were preset to certain patterns of stimulation. It's very rare to see a spinal cord that was this silent, ' says Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, referring to an nearly undetectable level of electrical activity in Tobler's lower spine. Such a device could give patients the ability to control the therapy at home outside of a research setting, Courtine says.

"The result was completely unexpected", he added, in a video released with the publication of the research in the journal Nature Thursday. However, scientists think that the treatment will become more and more popular during following years. The process took some time as the patients went through rehabilitation to improve performance and get paralyzed muscles moving again, but after a while they were up and moving without assistance. Courtine, G. (2018). Targeted neurotechnology restores walking in humans with spinal cord injury.

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But scientists have been hopeful that these nerve pathways in the spinal cord can be repaired by tapping into certain populations of nerve cells, called neural circuits, that are found in the spinal column.

"These neural pathways are by and large still intact and viable", says Chad Bouton, the director of the Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in NY, who wasn't involved in the latest study. "When you stimulate the nerves like this it triggers plasticity in the cells".

However Professor Courtine warned the new treatment was not a "magic pill" for people with spinal cord injuries. Each electrode was precisely placed to activate a specific group of leg muscles.

The patients were given watches that adapt the electrical stimulation to their needs based on voice commands. The men also received two wearable sensors, one on each foot, that delivered additional stimulation. "We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord". At some point, it might be possible to recover those nerve connections enough that stimulation is no longer needed.

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