Two people with spinal cord injuries walk with the help of a spinal cord implant.
© NeuroRestore, Jimmy Ravier
Electrically stimulating the spinal cord helped three people with spinal cord injuries and lower body paralysis move again, researchers reported February 7 in Nature Medicine. Using magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography to map the spinal cords of 15 healthy volunteers and 12 deceased individuals, the team had created a model of an average spinal cord. The model guided electrode placement in three test participants. The implants delivered electrical stimulation to a large swath of the spinal cord, controlling trunk and leg movements. The researchers determined the precise patterns of stimulation needed for various movements. Using a clicker hooked up to a tablet, participants selected their desired stimulation and performed various activities like walking, pedaling a bicycle, and squatting — all with as little as a day’s worth of training.
Big picture: Depending on location and severity, a spinal cord injury can result in varying degrees of paralysis and sensation loss. Earlier research showed spinal cord stimulation could help recover movement, but the limited recovery involved months of intense rehabilitation. The new study shows the technology has the potential to be more precise, personalized, and faster-acting. While the participants in this study sustained spinal cord injuries between one and nine years ago, the researchers say they next plan to focus on people with more recent spinal cord injuries and hope to simplify the technology so users could control it with a smartphone.
Read more: Stimulating spinal cord helps paralysed people to walk again. Nature
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