Helmut Kern, Wilhelminenspital, Vienna, Austria

Electrical stimulation (epidural) of the spinal cord

Funded in: 2006, 2007

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Networks of nerve cells located in the spinal cord control the musculature. The muscles are activated in a particular sequence, for example during walking. The control only works if it continuously receives electrical signals from the brain. In patients with paraplegia, the nerve fibres which transmit these signals to the spinal cord are severed. Previous research has shown that the musclecontrolling networks can be reactivated by external electrical stimulation of the injured spinal cord.
This allows basic motor functions to be reestablished. Electrodes are attached subcutaneously near the spinal cord. The spinal cord is then electrically stimulated. Simple movement tests and measurements of muscle activity determine whether the motor function has been successfully activated. The project is supposed to enable paraplegic patients with residual control over the leg musculature to walk a few steps or to stand up from their wheelchair by means of electrical stimulation.

Ref.: Hofstoetter US, Minassian K, Hofer C, Mayr W, Rattay F, Dimitrijevic MR. Modification of reflex responses to lumbar posterior root stimulation by motor tasks in healthy subjects. Artif Organs. 2008 Aug;32(8):644-8.