Breakthrough treatment helps paralyzed patients walk | Life , Health

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

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

In fact, two of the patients can take several steps without electrical stimulation, a sign that there's been growth of new nerve connections, said senior researcher Gregoire Courtine, chair of spinal cord fix at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

M'zee lost the use of his legs due to a sporting accident but thanks to researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, he can reportedly walk more than a half mile, hands free, with the implants turned on.

"It really works as an amplifier", lead neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine told Nature.

Implanted electrodes that provide direct electrical stimulation to the spinal cord have been shown to allow movement of previously paralyzed legs. "We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord".

For Courtine, Bloch, and their colleagues, the next step is to explore results in people with recent injuries, where "the potential for plasticity is elevated and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy that follows chronic paralysis", they write. "It is also this spatiotemporal coincidence that triggers the growth of new nerve connections", said Courtine. "This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralysed following spinal cord injury".

"It definitely gives us a lot of hope, which is extremely important", Dr Gustin said.
That communication process is blocked in people with major spinal cord injuries, because the nerves along that channel are damaged.

The other two men who have successfully walked after the implant was inserted are Gertan Oskan, a 35-year-old man from Netherlands who had had a road traffic accident seven years back and Sebastian Tobler, a 48-year-old German who had had a cycle accident a few years back.

Professor Courtine has been working in this area for 15 years and said the results were "amazing". None of them can walk efficiently enough to outpace a wheelchair, but he says they are walking nonetheless.

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The groundbreaking technology, called epidural electrical stimulation, fills the gaps in damaged spines and revives the ability to translate neural messages from the brain to the spine, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature. All the participants continued to improve during the five-month course of the study, Courtine says.

The challenge for the patients was to learn how to coordinate their brains' intention to walk with the targeted electrical stimulation, but that did not take long.

"That's a moment you will never forget in your life". I think you've got to try the impossible to make the possible possible.

"Academically, we're going to be stuck". The treatment which was given to them involved a device that was fixed to their spines in order to boost the signals which passes from the brain to the legs.

"This is absolutely a promising step for spinal cord injury research, but we might need to target it a bit differently for people with complete spinal cord injuries".

The men, who suffered sustained cervical spinal cord injuries, can now walk with the aid of crutches or a walking stick.

"This is intense training, and without [patients having] the will to recover it would not work", he said.

EPFL scientists had originally managed to get paralysed rats to walk on their own again using a combination of electrical and chemical stimulation.

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