Electro-stimulation helps paraplegic patients walk again

James Marshall
November 2, 2018

The research, by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), has been published in two studies in the journals Natureexternal link and Nature Neuroscienceexternal link. The treatment which was given to them involved a device that was fixed to their spines in order to boost the signals which passes from the brain to the legs.

The team also developed a voice-activated watch app that allowed the patients to self-moderate their electrical stimulation and walk with a wheeled walking frame - or even cycle on a modified tricycle - outside the laboratory. A new technique has given hope to people who have been paralyzed due to spinal cord injury. Courtine, G. (2018). Targeted neurotechnology restores walking in humans with spinal cord injury. Such a device could give patients the ability to control the therapy at home outside of a research setting, Courtine says. When implanted into rats, the e-Dura prototype caused neither damage nor rejection, even after two months.The researchers tested the device prototype by applying their rehabilitation protocol - which combines electrical and chemical stimulation - to paralysed rats. While he can take a few steps with crutches or stand up with another person for support, "I should be able to have a BBQ standing on my own in the near future". That suggests the stimulation might be rewriting the connections between the brain and spinal cord, Moritz says. The exact timing and location of the electrical signal are crucial in producing the intended movement.

"I think you have to try and do the impossible to make the possible, possible", Mzee said, "and I think we're doing that and it feels good". 'Unbelievable!' Courtine's postdocs said.

"The key will be to apply this type of optimized technology very early after the spinal cord injury, when the potential for growth of new nerve connections is more pronounced, the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone all the atrophy that follows chronic paralysis, and you have not lost what it means to walk". "Our goal is to develop a widely accessible treatment", adds Courtine.

"This is intense training, and without [patients having] the will to recover it would not work", he said.

"We provide the tools to help the brain help itself, and then the rest is in the hands of our patients."

The University of Technology Sydney will have a research centre capable of administering this treatment in trials within the next year, according to Professor Vissel.

"Some of the people who come into the experiments here in Australia will be seeing recovery that they never thought was possible", he said.

The team is planning to conduct larger trials across Europe and United States within the next three years.

"They figured out how to deliver these pulses of stimulation into the spinal cord at the right pace, at the right beat, that would not disrupt that proprioceptive sensory system", Oxley said. And so the researchers set about understanding how the nervous system responded to movements in every joint in healthy individuals, building up a "map" of what these activation patterns looked like.

There were three of the total paralyzed men who were told that they wouldn't be able to walk again in their lives and they would spend the rest of their lives by simply being in wheelchairs.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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