Major breakthrough in spinal cord injury recovery
There has been a significant breakthrough in spinal cord injury research, with a new electrical stimulation technique helping people with paraplegia walk again.
In two studies recently published in the academic journals Nature and Nature Neuroscience, international researchers have had success using targeted electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and intense physical rehabilitation, which has enabled paraplegic patients to recover their leg movement and start walking again.
Lead researcher Professor Gregoire Courtine, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said the targeted electrical stimulation technique works by reconnecting communication pathways between the legs and the brain (which have been damaged by a spinal injury).
It was a matter of targeting the stimulation with the precision of a Swiss watch
How does it work?
The researchers implanted an array of electrodes over patients’ spinal cords, and this allowed for the targeting of individual muscle groups in the patients’ legs.
Specific configurations of electrodes were activated to control the muscles, mimicking the signals that the brain would deliver to produce walking.
Electric stimulation was delivered by a pulse generator, timed to coordinate with intended movement.
What other research is underway?
Bupa, which runs a therapy centre in West Melbourne, strongly supports ongoing medical research into spinal injuries.
Spinal Cord Injury Australia says that:
There are nearly 20,000 people in Australian living with a spinal cord injury, and
133 days is the average length of stay in hospital for a newly injured spinal cord injury patient.
Earlier in the year, Bupa Therapy celebrated its new walking machine (known as the GEO-System™). This is the first time the cutting-edge robotic gait technology has become available in Australia.
The robotics is designed to help muscles regain strength and for the nervous system to relearn motor skills and develop new neural pathways in the brain.
Spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling. The injury usually occurs as a result of a trauma (such as a car accident or fall), medical condition (such as spina bifida or stroke), or as a result of other back and spine conditions.