Spinal electrical implants helps three paralyzed men walk

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption'I always dreamed of walking again

Geneva, Nov 1 Three paralysed patients have been able to walk again, thanks to precise electrical stimulation of their spinal cords via a wireless implant, Swiss scientists said. But Courtine and his team have been working on a new technology meant to treat spinal cord injuries like Tobler's.

"Voluntary muscle control improved tremendously within five months of training", said Courtine.

Lead researcher Gregoire Courtine said the targeted stimulation technique works by reconnecting communication pathways between the legs and the brain, which have been damaged by a spinal injury.

"Our findings are based on a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms which we gained through years of research on animal models".

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.

"All the patients could walk using body weight support within one week", says Blotch.

"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. But if the implant produces electrical stimulation in pulses, enough natural information might be able to squeeze through the gaps in the rhythm to help patients coordinate their movements better.

The study published in the journal Nature on October 31 revealed that the technique has already demonstrated significant progress in people who have spinal cord injuries.

Mzee can control the stimulation remotely through his watch.

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

Nerves in the spinal cord send signals from the brain to the legs. Within a week, the men were able to leave the treadmill and walk on the ground with continued electrical stimulation. But that did not take long.

"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".

A breakthrough treatment involving electrical stimulation of the spine has enabled paralyzed patients to walk again, apparently reactivating nerve connections and providing hope for people even years after accidents.

The stimulation begins with a pulse directed at a muscle to prompt the patient to begin movement, for example a step.

Chet Moritz at the University of Washington in Seattle wrote an accompanying article saying, "it now appears that many people can regain the ability to control their paralysed limbs and even walk again through the innovative combination of spinal stimulation and rehabilitation". As soon as the stimulation is turned off, the patients immediately return to their previous state of paralysis and are no longer able to activate leg movements.

GTX medical, a start-up, co-founded by Courtine and Bloch, will use these findings to develop tailored neurotechnology with the aim of making the treatment available to all hospitals and clinics.

"We have sufficient evidence to use these treatments in the early stage after spinal cord injury, when the potential for growth of new nerve connections is higher, and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy".

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