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Paralyzed Patients Get The Chance To Walk Again With New Breakthrough

Jan 18, 2019 07:53 AM EST
A new study reveals that paralysis patients now have a shot for recovery with an experimental treatment that includes a spinal implant and physical therapy. A handful of patients already show positive results.
(Photo : Ulrike Mai | Pixabay)

A groundbreaking new treatment gives hope to those with paralysis as one man successfully regains his ability to stand and walk again.

Paralysis used to be a near-hopeless scenario, but as medical knowledge and technology improves, there is more optimism than ever for recovery. One treatment in particular, which involves a combination of spinal cord stimulation and physical therapy, shows great potential with a few patients already recording significant progress.

A Success Story

According to Mayo Clinic, 29-year-old Jered Chinnock was paralyzed after damaging his spinal cord in a snowmobile accident in 2013. Due to his injuries, he became unable to move or feel anything below the middle of his torso.

In 2016, Chinnock participated in the study that has now been newly published in the journal Nature Medicine. He had an electrode implanted in his spine and then underwent 22 weeks of physical therapy.

The long, arduous process paid off, as the paralysis patient was able to walk again with the help of a front-wheeled walker and occasional assistance from trainers. It took 113 rehabilitation visits in a single year, but the study notes that Chinnock was able to travel a total distance of 111 yards or the equivalent of a football field.

"What this is teaching us is that those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis," Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D., co-principal investigator, neurosurgeon, and director of Mayo Clinic's Neural Engineering Laboratories, says in a statement.

The Implant

The paper, which is a collaboration between researchers from Mayo Clinic and the University of California Los Angeles, reveals that the implant was placed in Chinnock's epidural space in the outermost region of the spinal canal that's just below the injured area. It's connected to both a pulse generator device embedded in his abdomen and an external controller.

During the rehabilitation sessions, the study authors tried out different stimulation settings as well as adjusted trainer assistance, harness support, and treadmill speed.

Tests show that with stimulation, Chinnock is capable of walking on the ground with a front-wheeled walker. He is also able to walk on a treadmill by holding on to the sidebars for balance.

When the stimulation was turned off, though, he is still paralyzed.

More Successful Patients

Another study simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine details four other cases where the implant showed positive results in paralysis patients. Two of the four patients who finished the study program were able to walk on their own, and the other two were able to stand and take limited steps.

"The important point is this technology may be able to give back functional control, to stand and take independent steps," Lee tells the Washington Post. "So it really gives hope to people who are faced with paralysis."

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