WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A stimulator that enables paralyzed patients to regain spinal function has recently been revealed in a new report.
- The implant is said to “re-awaken” a circuit of nerves below the injury, making it possible for the patient to take steps.
- The promising discovery sparks hope in those who are paralyzed, as it brings the chance of gaining functional control in the future.
On Monday, the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Medicine published reports about an electrical implant that resulted in significant progress in the condition of three patients suffering from paralysis who are undergoing long-term intensive rehab.
This promising medical breakthrough works as a spinal stimulator, enabling a paralyzed patient to regain some spinal function. It has been theorized that the mechanism of the implant involves zapping electrical currents to a network of nerves beneath the site of injury – this, along with regular intense rehab, will eventually “wake up” some of the connections, allowing movement.
According to Susan Harkema, a professor from University of Louisville and co-author of the study, the spinal cord “relearns to do things, not as well as it did before, but it can function.” She further added that under the right circumstances, recovery can happen.
It may be considered a ground-breaking discovery in the mission to help patients with spinal cord injury, but two groups of scientists have concluded that it’s not a cure. The patients walk with assistance to maintain balance, but upon switching off the spinal stimulator, they cannot move their legs on their own anymore.
Dr. Cristina Sadowsky, who directs spinal cord therapy at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute, says that “not everybody who has a similar injury will respond the same.”
Such is the case of Jered Chinnock, who has been paralyzed since 2013 and is unable to move or feel anything below his mid-back. The 29-year-old who is undergoing physical rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic was able to walk back and forth enough to cover the span of a football field.
He told The Associated Press in an interview that, “The walking side of it isn’t something where I just leave my wheelchair behind and away I go…there is the hopeful side of, maybe I’ll gain that — where I can leave the wheelchair behind, even if it is to walk to the refrigerator.”
Chinnock’s doctor, Mayo neurosurgeon Kendall Lee is also a co-author of the Nature Medicine report. She said, “This study gives hope to people who are faced with paralysis that functional control may be possible.”
Although the stimulator has only been tested on a few people, the study needs more thorough and extensive research to uncover possible risks. The cost of such therapy is still unknown, but scientists continue their work in improving the stimulators.
Source: CBS News