Stimulation restores some function for 4 paralyzed men

Photo credit:USA Today

Some promising news for people dealing with serious spinal cord injuries: a new experiment has been successful in reestablishing some movement for four paralyzed men who believed they would never have movement in their legs again. Researchers from the University of Louisville and the University of California-Los Angeles say their findings are “staggering” and could change the way we understand paralysis.

“The message here is that patients with spinal cord injury may no longer necessarily say it’s a sentence of complete, permanent paralysis… Spinal cord injury is devastating, but now there is hope,” shares Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which partially funded the research.

Researchers were able to use electrical current, or epidermal stimulation, on the spines of the four men to reestablish a connection between the legs and the brain that was thought to be gone. Now, all of the men can raise their legs and even stand on their own with the help of the device. They also regained sexual function and experienced other improvements when not even using the device, like the ability to control the bladder, bowel and blood pressure.

Kent Stephenson, who lost control of his body from the neck down in a 2009 accident, is one of the men experiencing these positive results.“At the age of 22, my doctors were telling me, ‘Here’s a wheelchair, get used to it’… (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,” he shares.

Though it takes time to see results and we don’t yet know if epidermal stimulation will work for everyone who has been paralyzed, biomechanics expert Claudia Angeli says, “with four out of four, it’s a very good sign.” And president and CEO of spinal cord research funding organization the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Peter T. Wilderotter, agrees: “The changes we see here are really staggering. It’s truly a breakthrough. It means extraordinary hope and a change in their whole quality of life and what they can look forward to.”

USA Today, 4/8/14

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