The study, called STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground), establishes a new therapeutic framework to improve recovery from spinal cord injury, said researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland.
He said that after two days, the new movement became nearly natural to the subjects and within a week, they were able to walk with limited assistance.
Three men with severe spinal cord injuries have walked for the first time in years after receiving targeted electrical stimulation of the spinal cord.
Three paralyzed men, all told by doctors they would never walk again, can now get up out of their wheelchairs, thanks to the help of Swiss doctors and an electrical device. EES works by implanting a device that delivers electrical signals to the spinal cord.
"We stimulated the spinal cord the same way the brain would do naturally". The implanted device was developed to treat pain, but when combined with 5 months of intensive physical therapy, it restored movement years after a paralyzing injury, researchers reported yesterday in Nature. The team's cocktail ofneuronactivating chemicals and electrical stimulation might be a precursor to future treatments for disabled humans, researchers say. However, scientists warned that talking about the unambiguous success so far, because studies are at an early stage.
One positive sign about the study is that the electrical stimulation was not simply moving the muscles by itself, in the way that sending current through a dead body will make it twitch, but that it relied on the subjects attempting to move their limbs. Walking actually came in fourth, behind sexual function, bladder and bowel movement, and the ability to control body posture. This included one person previously had no movement in his legs, and one whose left leg had been completely paralyzed, according to Nature. All the participants continued to improve during the five-month course of the study, Courtine says.
The handful of results "is giving us a lot of confidence that this solution is real and even people with complete paralysis can regain stepping movements", says Chet Moritz, an associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington, who wrote an accompanying editorial in Nature about the most recent findings. I'm surprised at what we have been able to do. "It doesn't need the brain to walk", Oxley said.
Even within the small group of three patients, the results have been markedly different.
All patients involved in the study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralysed for many years, they said. Moreover, they exhibited no leg-muscle fatigue, and so there was no deterioration in stepping quality.
And essential, they add, is ensuring that the treatment translates outside of the hospital. BBC news has made research in this aspect and they had got special access to the patients who were getting treated in the clinic.