A handful of people who are completely paralyzed via the waist or chest down have been able to stand, take steps, along with also, in one case, walk that has a walker, after getting a device surgically implanted in their spines.
These devices, called epidural stimulators, have been used for years to treat chronic pain. When the epidural stimulator is actually on, which delivers electrical impulses to the lower spine. which stimulation, combined with an intense rehabilitation program — in one case, 278 sessions in nearly two years — may help sync up the brain’s intention to walk with actual movement of the limbs.
So far, the procedures haven’t worked for everyone, along with also they’ve only been done two to four years after a spinal cord injury, so which’s not clear if they can help people who’ve been paralyzed for a longer period of time. along with also they’re not without risk — one person broke a hip via just attempting to walk on a treadmill.
nevertheless they do offer wish, Claudia Angeli, assistant professor with the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville, told BuzzFeed News.
“These individuals, after their injuries, are always told there is actually no possibility for recovery. at which point we are showing which the spinal cord has which capacity to restore function,” Angeli said. “We do not have all the answers along with also we are not claiming to have all the answers, nevertheless we are very hopeful.”
Angeli along with also her colleagues, including Susan J. Harkema, revealed on Monday the results of four people who had the spinal implant. Two of them regained the ability to take steps along with also two did not, according to their study from the fresh England Journal of Medicine.
In a second report published on Monday in Nature Medicine, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles along with also the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, reported which a 29-year-old man who had the epidural stimulator implanted was able to take steps with assistance.
In 2014, the University of Louisville team reported from the journal Brain which four men who had the implant were able to stand along with also flex their toes, along with also showed increased bladder, bowel, along with also sexual function. Also in 2014, there was a reported case of a man regaining the ability to take steps after cells via inside of his nose were implanted in his spine.
The most stunning recovery presented from the fresh studies was which of 23-year-old Kelly Thomas of Citrus County, Florida, who received the implant last year at the University of Louisville. Thomas can at which point switch on the implant along with also walk around her home using a walker.
“which’s a mind-body connection. If I don’t consciously think about stepping, I don’t step — which’s just which plain along with also simple,” she told BuzzFeed News. “The stimulator doesn’t work for you, if which makes sense; you have to figure out how to work which. which’s definitely a connection nevertheless I’ve figured which out. I’ve cracked the code.”
Once a soccer player, daily runner, equestrian, along with also rodeo competitor, Thomas had a car accident in 2014 which left her paralyzed via the chest down. However, she did have some sensation in her lower body, which isn’t the case in all spinal injury patients. She had the implant in September along with also participated in 81 rehabilitation sessions over 15 weeks. She worked on sitting, standing, along with also taking steps in sessions for fours hours a day, a few days a week, along with also for a few hours on the weekend.
“I don’t want people to think you just turn which on along with also you are not bad to go — which’s not the case. which takes hours along with also hours along with also hours of dedication,” she said. “which’s not for the faint of heart … There are days you just want to cry along with also quit.”
The epidural stimulator in her spine is actually controlled by a device implanted in her abdomen. Thomas can place a magnet on her abdomen along with also select different programs such as standing, walking, or controlling the trunk of her body. Although not everyone can sense when the implant is actually on, Thomas says she feels a buzzing sensation.
“I have which continuous, like, buzz which’s going on in my body when the stimulator is actually on,” she said. “If I have my phone in my pocket on vibrate I won’t feel which because I am already feeling which vibration.”
Jeff Marquis, a 35-year-old via Louisville, Kentucky, was paralyzed in 2011 after a mountain bike accident. After 278 sessions over about two years, Marquis was able to take steps using horizontal poles held by trainers, or when holding hands with someone on each side. He’s not able to take steps that has a walker, however, because of balance issues.
Marquis’s injury was more severe than Thomas’s, said Angeli. “When the stimulation is actually off he has no use of his hands, along with also his trunk control is actually a lot more challenging,” she said. “Can he progress to a walker? We don’t know.”
Both Marquis along with also Thomas had some lower-body sensation after their accidents, which may have helped them regain stepping ability.
nevertheless even the two patients from the study who did not take steps showed some improvement, Angeli said. They were able to sit up along with also stand when the implant was on, along with also they could intentionally move their feet in step-like motions.
“There is actually still a long way to go for us to learn more about how which is actually occurring along with also potentially improving the technology to make which easier to translate which to the clinic,” she said.
from the second study, researchers via UCLA along with also the Mayo Clinic reported on a 29-year-old patient who could not feel or move his lower limbs after a snowmobile accident in 2013. He entered the clinical trial in 2016, along with also after 113 rehabilitation visits to the Mayo Clinic, he took 331 steps along with also walked 16 minutes with assistance. He was able to take steps that has a front-wheeled walker, with occasional assistance via trainers. For safety reasons, the patient at which point only takes steps with the assistance via the team.
In a press conference, the Mayo Clinic team said which no one truly knows why the spinal stimulation is actually working. The implant doesn’t seem to cause nerves to regrow.
One theory is actually which there might be some residual fibers remaining from the spine in some patients.
“We speculate which which is actually … one of the potential mechanisms of their recovery,” said Kristin Zhao, director of Mayo Clinic’s Assistive along with also Restorative Technology Laboratory.
The Mayo Clinic team has done the same procedure on another patient, nevertheless has not yet released those results.
Even without steps, the epidural stimulators seem to have some other benefits, including an improvement in bowel, bladder, along with also sexual function.
Thomas said she has noticed an increased ability to sweat (which is actually a problem for spinal cord injury patients) along with also less nerve pain in her foot. She can also cough at which point.
“Before, if I got something stuck in my throat, someone would certainly have to help me,” she said. “nevertheless at which point, just because of the stimulator, my core strength has increased,” she said.
Angeli said she plans to study if the epidural stimulator improves heart function, like blood pressure control, along with also if which can help people who have been paralyzed for a longer period of time.
One drawback of the treatment will likely be cost. The patients (or their insurance companies) did not have to pay for their surgery along with also rehabilitation because they were part of an FDA-approved clinical trial. However, Angeli estimates which the cost, including the surgery along with also rehabilitation, might be around half a million dollars.
Epidural stimulators are made by several companies including Medtronic, which provided the equipment for the NEJM study nevertheless did not otherwise provide funds or input.
“Today is actually an important day for the millions of individuals living with paralysis who were told which recovery following spinal cord injury was impossible,” according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which provided funding for both studies.
“which also falls on the eve of Christopher Reeve’s birthday, which is actually just a happy coincidence,” a spokesperson said. “which’s a big day for Reeve along with also the community we serve.”