Electrodes enable paralysed patients to walk

David Mzee walks after receiving a spinal stimulation implant.               CBS News

David Mzee walks after receiving a spinal stimulation implant. CBS News

M'zee was previously told by doctors he would never walk again. I'm surprised at what we have been able to do.

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. In the future, Courtine thinks such stimulators could be most effective in restoring muscle movement if they are used as soon as possible after an injury. 'Oh my god. I'm walking like a horse, ' Tobler said. Dr Courtine said that not only was Mr.

"The field of spinal cord injury is poised to take a giant leap forward in the treatment of what was until very recently considered incurable paralysis", he wrote. It is the third study of its kind, the previous two conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville and the Mayo Clinic. It is still in its early stages but, so far, it has corrected spinal-cord injuries in patients of varying stages of paralysis.

Using precisely timed electrical pulses, the scientists stimulated the region of the spinal cord that the brain was also trying to activate when each patient tried to walk. The men who participated in the study had not been born paralyzed, but had suffered severe spinal injuries. "It's not that we're taking over control of the leg". Moreover, they exhibited no leg-muscle fatigue, and so there was no deterioration in stepping quality. When Courtine had the implant fire continuously in the same patients, that coordination went away. Continuous electrical stimulation of the spine may overwhelm communication the lower limbs are trying to send to the spinal cord, Courtine and his colleagues report in a second paper also published Wednesday in Nature Neuroscience. That suggests the stimulation might be rewriting the connections between the brain and spinal cord, Moritz says.

The signal between the brain and the legs can become weakened, preventing movement.

"In our method, we implant an array of electrodes over the spinal cord which allows us to target individual muscle groups in the legs", said Lausanne University Hospital neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch. 'The collision of signals is confusing the brain and the patient, ' she says.

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"The exact timing and location of the electrical stimulation are crucial to a patient's ability to produce an intended movement".

When the device is turned off, he can't move. This is thanks to new rehabilitation protocols that combine targeted electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord and weight-assisted therapy.

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"It was a very emotional moment the first time they walked", he said. 'Two of them can walk long distances with crutches, ' he adds.

He and Bloch have founded a start-up that will refine the treatment and test it on people shortly after spinal cord injuries, when the technique is likely to be more successful. To some patients, regaining these functions is more important than walking. And others began having more sensation in parts of their upper bodies.

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. Gert-Jan Oskam could only make slight movements with his legs before the trial, but now he says he can stand to do simple tasks at home-including cooking and grilling.

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