Jered Chinnock says he “always thinks about walking,” since becoming paraplegic in 2013. Four years later, he was able to do so after being selected as the first participant in a three-year Mayo Clinic research project on electrical stimulation and regaining movement after spinal cord injury.
Jered began with six months of intensive physical therapy designed to strengthen his leg muscles and nerve connections before an electrical stimulator, FDA approved to treat pain, was surgically implanted into his spine. “The results were beyond expectations,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Kendall Lee, director of the Neural Engineering Laboratories at the Mayo Clinic, who leads the project with Dr. Kristin Zhao, of the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
The implant is controlled by a remote wand, which produces a mild electrical current that stimulates damaged spinal nerves. “We’re not activating the muscle itself, but we are trying to neuromodulate the spinal cord so that the patients can decide whether they want to move their legs or not,” said Lee.
Jered said his experience has “been out of a science fiction novel.” When his device was first activated, “It was almost mind-blowing because right away I could move my toes, and it was something I haven’t seen.” The stimulator has also given Jered the ability to push himself harder in physical therapy, which has improved his core strength and balance.
Drs. Lee and Zhao, who called seeing movement in Jered’s legs “a highlight of their careers,” are now researching how this technology that can help patients, “not only with volitional movement, but other autonomic functions, such as bowel, bladder and sexual function,” said Lee.
Click here to read more on the Mayo Clinic’s initial research results and we will keep you updated on this project.