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Walking after a complete spinal cord injury

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Thanks to a technology called Epidural Electrical Stimulation and an intensive rehabilitation program, three individuals with complete spinal cord injuries have been able to walk again. In 2018, a preceding technology helped persons with incomplete injuries to achieve similar features. Currently the research group from Lausanne found also success with an improved stimulation techniques for complete spinal cord injured patients. Nevertheless, all three patients shown are part of an ongoing trial and overall results have yet to be published.

Refined technique
To achieve this, the team established a computational framework to decide the best arrangement of electrodes on a new paddle lead. This also helped in guiding the surgical positioning of the paddle. Finally, the Swiss team developed a new software to support the configuration of activity-specific stimulation programs. In simple terms, they created sets of stimulations for activities of daily living.

Regained mobility
After five months of intense training, activity-specific stimulation programs led to improvements in standing, walking and controlling of trunk stability. It is important to point out that the patients did not regain natural movements. Yet, this recovery was sufficient to perform activity patterns by the help of electrical stimulation. For regained mobility, technical devices are still necessary. For experts it remains unclear for which subgroup of patients this method is suitable and if it could ever be considered for a bigger group of spinal cord injured people. 

This study was published in the journal Nature Medecine and was supported by Wings for Life.

Source: Rowald A, Komi S, Demesmaeker R et al. Activity-dependent spinal cord neuromodulation rapidly restores trunk and leg motor functions after complete paralysis. Nat Med. 2022 Feb 7. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01663-5. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35132264.

You can find out more on the spinal cord and the influence of its damage on the human body in our basic-information. Wings for Life Glossary gives an understanding of scientific terms.