A promising breakthrough in the treatment of long-term paralysis was revealed in a recent scientific study. With the help of electrodes placed near the spinal cord, four men who had been paralyzed for more than two years developed the ability to move voluntarily, although not the ability to walk. The five-year research study combined rigorous physical therapy with electric stimulation of the spinal cord. It found that direct electrical stimulation enabled voluntary movement in patients who were thought to be completely paralyzed. Over a five-year period, the men developed the ability , when stimulated, to wiggle their toes, lift and swing their legs , move their ankles and sit up without support. Currently, the stimulator is able to work on only one leg at a time, so it can’t be used to restore walking.
This video from CNN illustrates how it works. Before their spinal cord injuries, the patients’ brains would have sent the key electrical signals to their limbs. Now, electrical stimulation is providing the impetus as a patient tries, practices and refines movements. The spinal cord stimulation “could be reawakening …connections” severed by the injury, said UCLA researcher V. Reggie Edgerton, who co-wrote the study. The trial’s success may mean that “a large cohort of individuals, previously with little realistic hope of any meaningful recovery from spinal cord injury , may benefit from this intervention,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute on Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which supported the research. The complete study was published in Brain, The Journal of Neurology: “Altering spinal cord excitability enables voluntary movements after chronic complete paralysis in human.”