Spinal Cord Implant Allows Three Paralyzed Patients to Walk

November 1, 2018 | Crandall & Pera Law
Spinal Cord Implant Allows Three Paralyzed Patients to Walk

Two recently released studies show that a new treatment for spinal injuries has helped three patients with paralysis defy the odds and walk again. This surgically implanted device sends electrical impulses to the spine, mimicking the signals the brain would send before paralysis.

These studies were published in two separate scientific journals in September – the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Medicine.

In the first study from the New England Journal of Medicine, two of four patients with motor complete spinal cord injury (no voluntary movement below the site of their injury) were able take steps and walk after having a spinal cord stimulation device implanted, and undergoing intense and extensive physical therapy. These patients can now walk for a limited amount of time with the aid of walkers.

"This should change our thinking about people with paralysis," Susan Harkema, professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville, and one of the lead researchers on the project, told CNN. "It's phenomenal. This new knowledge is giving us the tools to develop new strategies and tools for recovery in people with chronic spinal injuries."

Claudia Angelia is the other lead researcher on the project, and a senior researcher at the Human Locomotion Researcher Center at Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville. “These individuals, after their injuries, are always told there is no possibility for recovery. Now we are showing that the spinal cord has that capacity to restore function,” Angeli said. “We do not have all the answers and we are not claiming to have all the answers, but we are very hopeful.”

The implant study focused on four patients, who underwent therapy concentrating on standing and stepping twice a day, five days a week, for months. One patient's therapy lasted nearly a year. All four were able to stand independently after receiving the implant and going through therapy, and two were able to walk over ground. However, one patient fractured his hip, setting his therapy back by several months.

Researchers believe the positive results were a combination of the implant's stimulation and an improvement in physical therapy treatments.

Another study published the same day as the New England Journal of Medicine study showed similar results. Research released in Nature Medicine showed that a man paralyzed from a spinal cord injury in 2013 was able to stand and walk (with assistance) with a combination of spinal cord stimulation and physical therapy.

Dr. Kendall Lee, director of the Mayo Clinic's Neural Engineering Laboratories, explained in a press release,  “What this is teaching us is that those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis.” Kristin Zhao, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and director of Mayo Clinic's Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory, added, “Now I think the real challenge starts, and that's understanding how this happened, why it happened, and which patients will respond.”

Spinal cord injuries can be catastrophic, both physically and emotionally. If you suffer partial or full paralysis in accident due to another's negligence or recklessness, the personal injury attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law can help. We provide personalized and experienced representation. Please call 877-686-8879, or fill out our contact form, and schedule your free consultation with an experienced lawyer at one of our offices in Ohio or Kentucky.