People who are paralyzed may have newfound hope due to recent studies and technological advances.
In a recent study published in Nature Medicine, researchers discovered that utilizing an epidural electrical stimulation device, they could quickly recover motor function in three individuals who had been paralyzed from the neck down.
According to lead author Dr. Grégoire Courtine, professor of neuroscience and neurotechnology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, University Hospital Lausanne, and the University of Lausanne, “We have been capable to targeting people with the most severe spinal cord injury, suggesting those with clinically comprehensive spinal cord injury, with no sensation and no movement in the legs,” said Courtine.
Although there is no link between the brain and the limbs following spinal cord injuries, the previous study has revealed that certain individuals, even those who have had “full” damage, may still have some connections that are still functional, according to Medscape.
Even while recent 2018 trials employing spinal cord stimulators to feast chronic ache in spinal cord patients have demonstrated commitment, the technology is too limited in scope to target all spinal cord areas, including the regulation of leg and trunk movements, according to the paper.
Normally, in individuals who do not have spinal cord damage, nerves in the spinal cord send impulses to the brain, which allows the patient to move their legs. According to a study by the BBC, however, the nerve impulses are too feeble to cause movement once spinal cord damage has occurred.
According to the paper, the researchers implanted a paddle-shaped device embedded with electrodes to boost nerve signals to allow a patient to walk. The wires from these electrodes were then connected to a neurostimulator implanted beneath the skin in the abdomen. The findings were published in the journal Neuroscience.
Three men, ranging in age from 29 to 41, took part in the study. They had all sustained a spinal cord injury due to motorcycle accidents several years before participating in the study, which allowed the researchers to ensure that their injuries had stabilized by the time they entered the study.
According to the news site, the subjects then utilized a tablet that interacted with the implanted device to choose the exercise they wanted to engage in, such as walking or standing, and then performed that activity.
The Mayo Clinic, however, according to Dr. Peter J. Grahn, associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Department of Neurologic Surgery. Dr. Grahn was one of the authors of a 2018 study on pain stimulators published in Medscape.
However, while acknowledging that the technology used in this research “is a significant step forward,” he expressed concern about the study’s definition of walking.
According to the researchers, “they claim that independent stepping or walking is restored on day one, but the graphs reveal that while they’re taking these steps, they’re having more than 60% of their body weight supported,” Grahn said.
According to the study, all three men were able to take up to 300 independent steps, although with the assistance of their bodies, within days of beginning the spinal stimulation.
After being paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and losing all sensation in his legs, one of the participants, Michel Roccati expressed his gratitude by saying, “I can stand up and move wherever my heart desires, I can climb the stairs – it’s almost like living a regular life.”
Following the installation of the spinal implant in August 2020, according to STAT, the patient could walk with body assistance within one day of receiving stimulation, which was 11 days after the operation. Each day, he said, “I can see the progress being made.”
Given that the paddle device requires more invasive surgery than the specific spinal cord stimulation gadget, which requires only a needle implant, according to Eellan Sivanesan, director of neuromodulation in the Division of Pain Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, “it may restrict the number of physicians readily capable of applying the treatment,” according to St. Petersburg Times.
Furthermore, according to Medscape, since the electrodes must be implanted in at least six centimeters of healthy spinal cord underneath the lesion of damage, not all paralyzed individuals are candidates for the operation.
“Each person has unique anatomy of the spinal cord, which is very variable. To be more specific, it is critical to examine each person individually and to have unique models available, “Dr. Joceylyne Bloch, associate professor at the University of Lausanne and the University Hospital Lausanne, and co-author and neurosurgeon shared her thoughts.
As reported by the BBC, Courtine also cautions that the technology used in the study is not a cure for patients suffering from spinal cord injury because such patients will require spinal cord regeneration, which is currently being explored through stem cell research, which is still in its early stages.
“This is not a treatment option for spinal cord injury patients. However, it is necessary to improve people’s quality of life. People will be empowered as a result of our efforts.
We will provide them with the ability to stand and walk a short distance. It is not sufficient, but it represents a substantial improvement. “Courtine shared her thoughts.