Paraplegic patients walk again with spinal cord implants - 01-Nov

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According to EPFL, the challenge for the patients was to learn how to coordinate their brains' intention to walk with the targeted electrical stimulation, but all the participants were able to walk with body-weight support after one week of calibration. 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. When the implant was turned on it sent a series of rhythmic shocks into his spine, like an electrical drumbeat.

In addition to helping paralyzed people regain their ability to move, the device is also regenerating damaged nerve cells in the spine, the BBC reports. This breakthrough could mean that individuals confined to wheelchairs after spinal damage could walk again say the researchers. The results, published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, are dramatic.

The first of the three patients involved was 30-year-old David Mzee.

Grégoire Courtine, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said that the technique should be moved from experimental trials into hospitals...

"This little device that is an impulse generator is giving impulses to the electrode that is located on the spinal cord", said Lausanne neurosurgeon Dr. Jocelyne Bloch in an interview with CBS News.

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He said that after two days, the new movement became nearly natural to the subjects and within a week, they were able to walk with limited assistance. Dr Courtine said that not only was Mr.

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. "The brain is trying to stimulate, and we stimulate at same time, and we think that triggers the growth of new nerve connections", said Courtine. This is a huge improvement from before the implant was inserted says Courtine. But unlike previous trials, two of Courtine's patients were able to stand and walk with crutches outside of the clinic without the implant activated. Only a new movement became nearly natural to men, and during the week they learned to walk limited help.

The team explained that the implant's signals can become uncomfortable and so it cannot be kept switched on at all times. Walking actually came in fourth, behind sexual function, bladder and bowel movement, and the ability to control body posture.

For Courtine, Bloch, and their colleagues, the next step is to explore results in people with recent injuries, where "the potential for plasticity is elevated and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy that follows chronic paralysis", they write. Here we introduce targeted spinal cord stimulation neurotechnologies that enabled voluntary control of walking in individuals who had sustained a spinal cord injury more than four years ago and presented with permanent motor deficits or complete paralysis despite extensive rehabilitation.

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