Device Gets Legs Moving After Spinal Cord Injury

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 31, 2015 (HealthDay News) — A noninvasive procedure might help people with paralysis move their legs without the need for surgery or implanted devices, new research suggests.

The treatment approach is called transcutaneous stimulation, where a device delivers an electrical current to the spine through electrodes placed on the outside of the lower back.

In a recent trial of the device, five paralyzed men were able to generate steplike movements. The men didn’t walk, but moved while their legs were suspended in braces hung from the ceiling. This enabled them to move without resistance from gravity.

“These encouraging results provide continued evidence that spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifelong sentence of paralysis, and support the need for more research,” Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, said in an institute news release.

These findings come on the heels of another successful study using spinal stimulation, but with a surgically implanted electrodes. Electrical stimulation with implanted electrodes allowed the men to voluntarily flex their toes, ankles and knees, and one man was even able to stand unassisted for short periods. The strength and precision of their movements improved over time with intense physical rehabilitation, according to that study, published in April 2014 in the journal Brain.

The latest study, however, focuses on a nonsurgical option.

“The potential to offer a life-changing therapy to patients without requiring surgery would be a major advance; it could greatly expand the number of individuals who might benefit from spinal stimulation. It’s a wonderful example of the power that comes from combining advances in basic biological research with technological innovation,” said Pettigrew.

The current study’s leader, V. Reggie Edgerton, a distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles, expressed similar thoughts.

“There are a lot of individuals with spinal cord injury that have already gone through many surgeries and some of them might not be up to or capable of going through another,” said Edgerton in the news release. “The other potentially high impact is that this intervention could be close to one-tenth the cost of an implanted stimulator.”

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