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

Modesto Morganelli
Novembre 3, 2018

It's the culmination of "more than a decade of careful research", Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who helped lead the research, told AFP. What Grégoire Courtine, Jocelyne Bloch, and a large team of researchers report today is a huge leap forward: their patients were able to walk (with assistance) after only a few days.

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. They even built personalized model spinal cords to lie in an electricity-conducting salty fluid, allowing the team to work out precisely where each electrode needed to be inserted during surgery.

Nerves in the spinal cord send signals from the brain to the legs.

Surprisingly, even when the stimulator was turned off, two of the three participants were able to control their leg muscles on their own. The implanted device was developed to treat pain, but when combined with 5 months of intensive physical therapy, it restored movement years after a paralyzing injury, researchers reported yesterday in Nature. However, scientists warned that talking about the unambiguous success so far, because studies are at an early stage.

For centuries, experts thought recovery from spinal injury paralysis could never surpass progress made during the first six months following injury.

All three study participants were able to walk with body-weight support after only one week spent calibrating the nerve stimulation to their individual brain patterns, Courtine said. Also the movement seen is in controlled laboratory conditions. This included one person previously had no movement in his legs, and one whose left leg had been completely paralyzed, according to Nature. With EES switched on, he's able to walk using a walker. "It doesn't need the brain to walk", Oxley said. He is also starting a new company called GTX Medical to continue helping patients after the study, and to promote the technology.

All patients involved in the study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralysed for many years, they said.

The handful of results "is giving us a lot of confidence that this solution is real and even people with complete paralysis can regain stepping movements", says Chet Moritz, an associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington, who wrote an accompanying editorial in Nature about the most recent findings. 'Two of them can walk long distances with crutches, ' he adds.

Moreover, they exhibited no leg-muscle fatigue, and so there was no deterioration in stepping quality, researchers said. Getting EES working is one thing, but they also have an eye on making it possible for patients to use at home-supporting "rehabilitation in clinical settings and use in the community".

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