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Electrical Stimulation Helps Four Paralyzed Men Regain Leg Movement

Apr 08, 2014 07:48 AM EDT
Men who underwent the spinal cord stimulation treatment
Left to right is Andrew Meas, Dustin Shillcox, Kent Stephenson and Rob Summers, the first four to undergo task-specific training with epidural stimulation at the Human Locomotion Research Center laboratory, Frazier Rehab Institute, as part of the University of Louisville's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, Louisville, Kentucky.
(Photo : University of Louisville)

Researchers have helped four paralyzed men move their legs again by zapping their spinal cords with electricity, according to a new study. The research might pave way for new devices for people suffering from paralysis.

The study was conducted by University of Louisville, UCLA and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology and was built on a previous research published in the journal Lancet. That study had shown that epidural stimulation helped a patient called Rob Summers of Portland, Ore. regain some movements in his limbs.

The latest study, published in the journal Brain, shows that three other people have benefitted from the latest technology. Kent Stephenson of Mt. Pleasant, Texas; Andrew Meas of Louisville, Ky.; and Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyoming, were able to voluntarily move their legs after researchers implanted them with a device that shoots electrical stimulations in their spinal cord.

"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, 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," Angeli said in a news release.

The electrical stimulator used in the treatment sends electric pulses of various frequencies and intensities to specific regions of the spinal cord. The electrical signal helped the spinal cord reuse the broken neural network and control movements of limbs.

The treatment also helped improve patients' overall health. The men developed muscle mass, had better blood circulation and even reported greater wellbeing.

In the U.S, about 200,000 people suffer from some degree of spinal cord injury, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study shows that in the future people with paralysis might recover from their injuries.

"At the age of 22, my doctors were telling me, 'Here's a wheelchair, get used to it,' " Stephenson of Mount Pleasant, Texas, told USA Today. "(Now) I feel like I'm better than I was. I don't feel like I'm going backwards anymore. ... I can pursue something in life."

The study was funded by Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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