New Technology Allows 3 Paralyzed Men to Walk Again!

New Technology Allows 3 Paralyzed Men to Walk Again!
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Those suffering from paralysis may have a real hope of walking again thanks to new technology and research in the field!

That’s right! As incredible as it may sound since it hasn’t been possible before, paralysis may just one day be reversible thanks to an epidural electrical stimulation system, as per a new study published in Nature Medicine not too long ago.

As part of the study, the research team was actually successful in restoring the motor function of not one, not two, but of three men who had complete paralysis before the method was used on them.

Now, Dr. Grégoire Courtine, who is the lead author of the study as well as a professor of neuroscience and neurotechnology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, states that “Thanks to this new technology, we’ve been able to target individuals with the most serious spinal cord injuries, meaning those with clinically complete spinal cord injury, with no sensation and zero movement in the legs.”

According to Medscape, while there is no connection between one’s brain and their extremities when it comes to spinal cord injuries, previous studies have shown that some patients may still have some functioning connections, even if they have a so-called “complete” injury.

As recently as 2018, research using stimulators to treat chronic pain in spinal cord patients have been able to show real promise but it turns out that the technology used is still too narrow when it comes to targeting all of the regions of the spinal cord dealing with the control of leg and trunk movement.

In patients with no spinal cord injury, the nerves located in the spinal cord are able to send signals to communicate with the brain to move one’s legs.

After a spinal cord injury, however, the nerve signals are way too weak to produce movement anymore, as per a BBC report.

The same report also mentioned that the researchers inserted a paddle-shaped device, embedded with electrodes, to boost the patients’ nerve signals, which in turn, would allow them to walk again.

Wires from these electrodes also needed to be connected to a neurostimulator implanted under the skin in the abdomen, the paper reveals.

As mentioned before, this revolutionary study involved three men with ages ranging between 29 and 41 years old who had suffered a spinal cord injury caused by motorcycle collisions years before joining the research.

Medscape mentions that the last detail was important as the researchers were well aware the injuries had been stabilized already.

The news outlet then noted that the three men used a tablet to communicate with the implanted device and choose an activity they wished to perform again – for instance, standing or even walking.

One author of a 2018 study on pain using stimulators, Dr. Peter J. Grahn, told Medscape that there is no doubt this technology “is a huge step forward,” but he still questioned the definition of waking as used in the research.

Grahn stated that “They say that independent stepping or walking is restored on day 1, but the graphs show day 1 function is having over 60 per cent of their body weight supported when they are taking these steps.”

The paper notes that all three men involved in the study were able to take up to 300 steps with some body support within days of beginning their spinal stimulation.

One of them, Michel Roccati, who had no feeling in his legs after his motorbike accident, shared that now, after being part of the study, “I stand up, I walk where I want to, I can walk the stairs – it is almost a normal life.”

According to STAT, he received the spinal implant back in August of 2020 and within only one day of the simulation, and 11 days after the procedure, he started walking with body support!

He went on to stress that “I see the improvement every day,” meaning that there is still a lot of potential that the man’s active life will improve even more as time goes on.

The director of neuromodulation in the Division of Pain Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Eellan Sivanesan, also told the same news outlet that the procedure used, that involves implanting the paddle device rather than the usual spinal cord stimulation device implanted only through a needle, is more invasive.

What this means is that it could “limit the number of physicians readily able to apply the treatment.”

Furthermore, Medscape also mentions that because at least 6 centimeters of healthy spinal cord under the injury’s lesion are necessary in order to implant the electrodes, not all paralyzed people can receive this procedure and walk again.

Dr. Joceylyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon and co-author of the study, shared that “There is a huge variability of spinal cord anatomy between individuals. That is why it is important to study each person individually and to have individual models in order to be precise.”

And that’s not all we need to keep in mind.

Courtine goes on to stress that the study’s technology is not exactly a cure for people with spinal cord injury as that actually requires regenerating the spinal cord, something stem cell research is still in the early stages of figuring out, as per BBC.

Regardless, Courtine explains that “This isn’t a cure for spinal cord injury. But it’s a critical step to improve people’s quality of life. We’re going to empower people. We’re going to give them the ability to stand, take some steps. It isn’t enough, but it’s still a significant improvement.”


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Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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