Friday, 18 January, 2019

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH: Three Paralyzed Men Can Walk Again After Receiving Spinal Implant

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Sandy Nunez | 02 November, 2018, 21:57

This week's video comes from Switzerland where three patients with chronic paraplegia have walked again thanks to precise electrical stimulation of their spinal cords via a wireless implant.

The therapy is promising, but it is not a cure due to the different natures of the many spinal cord injuries out there. They suggest that this technique has been less successful in humans because the electrical stimulation has been continuous, preventing feedback from the body to the brain, and effectively blocking the brain's sense of where the limbs are in space. Within a week, the men could stand up and walk using supports. All three study participants were able to walk with body-weight support after only one week of calibration, according to the researchers, and voluntary muscle control improved tremendously within five months of training.

In fact, two of the patients can take several steps without electrical stimulation, a sign that there's been growth of new nerve connections, said senior researcher Gregoire Courtine, chair of spinal cord fix at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Sebastian Tobler's spinal cord injury was so severe that doctors were not able to offer him a walking rehabilitation program, so he built himself a recumbent hand tricycle - which has since had electrical stimulation technology added.

In the first two reports, the implants were preset to certain patterns of stimulation.

The study achieves an unprecedented level of precision in electrically stimulating spinal cords, which the researchers said was "as precise as a Swiss watch". This is a huge improvement from before the implant was inserted says Courtine.

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"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". However, scientists think that the treatment will become more and more popular during following years.

Implanted electrodes that provide direct electrical stimulation to the spinal cord have been shown to allow movement of previously paralyzed legs.

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.

A paralyzed man is back on his feet thanks to a newly developed spinal cord implant. Very basically, a pulse generator sends signals to paralyzed muscles to tell them to move, signals the muscles no longer get naturally. The electrodes connected to a small device surgically placed in the abdomen that generates the electrical pulses. This device, manufactured by Medtronic, is already on the market for deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease. "It is also this spatiotemporal coincidence that triggers the growth of new nerve connections", said Courtine. At some point, it might be possible to recover those nerve connections enough that stimulation is no longer needed. "It's turning up the volume, turning up the excitability of the spinal circuits below the injury".