At the Human Locomotion Research Center in Louisville, Kentucky, an experimental technique involving epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord recently enabled 4 young men who had been paralyzed for years to voluntarily move their legs. Prior to the implantation of the neural stimulator, all 4 men had been classified as having motor complete spinal cord injuries (with 2 of the men additionally having sensory complete injuries) and were unable to move their lower extremities. All of the men were vehicular accident victims.
Mimicking signals that the brain normally sends to initiate movement, the stimulator delivers continuous electrical stimulation to the lower spinal cord. Initial findings of epidural stimulation on voluntary movement were reported in 2011 in The Lancet. In a recent study reported earlier this year in Brain (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24713270), new tests were conducted on the original patient plus 3 additional patients. In what may be considered revolutionary results, the 3 most recent patients responded immediately to neurostimulation and were able to execute voluntary movement. These patients are now able to move their hips, ankles, and toes. With this experimental technique in neurostimulation, the electrical current is applied at varying strengths and frequencies and directed at specific locations in the lumbosacral spinal cord corresponding to dense neural bundles. This groundbreaking work demonstrates that even after severe injury the spinal cord has significant potential for recovery.
Contributed by William Yarnall, RPh, CCP
Medical Writer, Connexion Healthcare