Will paralyzed people be able to walk again in the future?
Researchers have now found that people who have been diagnosed that they will be paralyzed for life can walk again by electrical stimulation of the spine.
In their current investigation, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University Hospital of Lausanne found that electrical stimulation of the spine in paralyzed people causes them to walk again. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Nature Neuroscience".
Electrical stimulation of the spine reactivates nerve connections
An electrical stimulation of the spine can apparently reactivate the nerve connections and give people hope even after accidents that they can run again later in their life, the experts explain. The team of neurosurgeons and engineers used targeted electrical impulses to achieve the results and trigger the individual muscles in a sequence, as the brain would do.
Patients could walk short distances again
The impulses are generated by an implant that is positioned over the spine and carefully aligned with areas that control the muscles in the lower body. So far, the results have been promising, say the researchers. A 35-year-old patient who was diagnosed with a traffic accident that he could never walk was able to walk short distances after only five months of treatment, even without help. The groundbreaking treatment with electrical stimulation of the spine enables paralyzed patients to walk again and apparently the treatment can reactivate the nerve connections. A 28 year old subject was able to walk up to two hours with the help of the electrical stimulation. After the five-month program, the affected person was able to cover short distances without help.
Paralyzed people could later activate muscles without stimulation
Previous studies used so-called continuous electrical spine stimulation, which worked well in rats but gave less impressive results in humans. In the current study, however, the results were better. After several months of training with targeted impulses, the three participants were able to activate their previously paralyzed muscles without electrical stimulation. Such a result was also completely unexpected for the scientists, explains study author Gregoire Courtine from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
More research is needed
The subjects were even able to take a few steps without any support, and the recovery was really amazing, the researchers report. It was incredible to see the patients move their legs without electrical stimulation, adds study author Jocelyne Bloch from the University Hospital of Lausanne. However, the experts explain that all three patients still rely mainly on wheelchairs. In addition, the study focused on patients who still had lower body sensation. The experts hope that in the future the new technology will be combined with biological treatments that repair the nerves. (as)