'Electrical stimulation helps three paralysed patients walk again'

Ebony Scott
November 3, 2018

THREE MEN WHO were paralyzed from the waist down are able to walk again with a new type of therapy that uses electrical stimulation, scientists announced today.

After rehabilitation, the patients could either walk with support or a walker and they were reported to have gained voluntary leg movements without the help of the EES treatment afterwards. These circuits also lead to the target muscles, but their signals aren't blocked by injuries, so some treatments seek to stimulate the ones below the injury site. "We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord". "The exact timing and location of the electrical stimulation are crucial to a patient's ability to produce an intended movement". Scientists think the implant's electrical stimulation adds enough power back to the brain's commands to get muscles moving again.

Second, and even more important, the research team fine-tuned the stimulation to work in conjunction with the patients' proprioceptive sensory system. The STIMO study, led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland, is published in the 1 November 2018 issues of Nature and Nature Neuroscience.

Moreover, they exhibited no leg-muscle fatigue, and so there was no deterioration in stepping quality, researchers said.

During rehabilitation sessions, the three participants were able to walk hands-free over more than one kilometer with the help of targeted electrical stimulation and an intelligent bodyweight-support system.

Because the neurons in the brain fire at nearly the exact same time as the electrical pulses stimulate the muscles, the technique appears to eventually "reconnect" the brain and the muscles.

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While the results were astonishing, the team was quick to caution that the treatment - called epidural electrical stimulation - is in the early stages and it is not clear for how many people this would work. As soon as the stimulation is turned off, the patients immediately return to their previous state of paralysis and are no longer able to activate leg movements.

"I hope we can develop some kind of walker or exoskeleton combined with stimulation so we can get people out of the wheelchair", Courtine said.

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31, 2018 (HealthDay News) - The science of spinal cord stimulation has been fine-tuned to the point that three previously paralyzed patients can now walk with minimal assistance, Swiss researchers report. Note: material may have been edited for length and content.

Wagner, F. B., Mignardot, J. L., Demesmaeker, R., Komi, S., Capogrosso, M., ...

The pulses are produced by an implant placed over the spine in careful alignment with areas that control the muscles in the lower body.

Formento, E., Minassian, K., Wagner, F., Mignardot, J. "There's a complex network of information coming back into the spinal cord from the leg about where your leg is in space".

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