© Wings for Life / Jürgen Rabatscher

What is ... epidural Stimulation?

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Four young men have received epidural stimulation during experimental therapy. With the stimulator on, all four could voluntarily move their legs and have also seen dramatic improvements in autonomic functions.

But what is epidural stimulation?

Epidural stimulation is the application of a continuous electrical current to the lower part of the spinal cord. The stimulation is carried out via a little chip which is implanted over the dura (the protective coating) of the spinal cord. A remote about the size of a smart phone controls the frequency and intensity of the electrical current. When the stimulator is on, specific sensory stimulations, combined with intensive training, allows paralyzed people to voluntarily move their legs.

What are the benefits?

During the experimental therapy, the scientists observed not “only” improvements of the motor system but also a better function of the autonomic nerve system.

  • Well-Being: Improvement in sense of quality of life
  • Temperature: Progress in temperature regulation
  • Sexuality: Enhancement in sexual function
  • Bladder: Increase in bladder control
  • Movement: Progression in certain leg movements

What are the mechanisms?

The spinal cord contains complex circuits that are capable of processing information on their own without the need of control from the brain. The most striking example is reflexes, which are, by definition, involuntary and promote nearly instantaneous movement in response to a particular stimulus. The epidural stimulation effect is based on this particular capability. The electrical current is supposed to be able to ‘re-activate the spinal circuits’, allowing the residual connection between the brain and the spinal cord to voluntarily control certain leg movements.

When will the epidural stimulation be available to more patients?

The first step is to see in a larger group of 36 patients the same ground-breaking results Dr. Harkema saw before in a couple of patients and to collect data on the safety and effectiveness of the process. If the study shows positive results, the next step would be to work with the appropriate medical, regulatory and health insurance authorities to move the treatment into broad clinical application. The timeframe for this cannot be determined at this stage.

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