New Electrical Therapy Allows Paraplegics to Move Their Legs

Written by on April 10, 2014 in Healing & Natural Remedies, Health with 0 Comments
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MedicalXpress.com | April 8 2014

Four young men who have been paralyzed for years achieved groundbreaking progress—moving their legs—as a result of epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, an international team of life scientists reports today in the medical journal Brain.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Louisville, UCLA and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology, was funded in part by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


All four participants were classified as suffering from chronic, motor complete spinal cord injuries and were unable to move their lower extremities prior to the implantation of an epidural stimulator. The stimulator delivers a continuous electrical current to the participants' lower spinal cords, mimicking signals the brain normally transmits to initiate movement.

The research builds on an initial study, published in May 2011 in the journal The Lancet, that evaluated the effects of epidural stimulation in the first participant, Rob Summers of Portland, Ore., who recovered a number of motor functions as a result of the intervention.

Now, three years later, the key findings documented in Brain detail the impact of epidural stimulation in a total four participants, including new tests conducted on Summers. Summers was paralyzed after being struck by a vehicle, and the other three participants were paralyzed in auto or motorcycle accidents.

What is revolutionary, the scientists said, is that the second, third and fourth participants—Kent Stephenson of Mt. Pleasant, Texas; Andrew Meas of Louisville, Ky.; and Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyo.—were able to execute voluntary movements immediately following the implantation and activation of the stimulator.

The participants' results and recovery time were unexpected, which led researchers to speculate that some pathways may be intact post-injury and therefore able to facilitate voluntary movements.

“Two of the four subjects were diagnosed as motor and sensory complete injured with no chance of recovery at all,” said lead author Claudia Angeli, a senior researcher with the Human Locomotor Research Center at Frazier Rehab Institute and an assistant professor at University of Louisville's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC). “Because of epidural stimulation, they can now voluntarily move their hips, ankles and toes. This is groundbreaking for the entire field and offers a new outlook that the spinal cord, even after a severe injury, has great potential for functional recovery.”


Keep reading to learn more about epidural stimulation therapy

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