New Science Helps Paralyzed People Walk Again

Spinal Cord Injuries ParalysisEvery day, science progresses to help us better adjust and succeed in this world. It makes us healthier and smarter, and better prepares us to adapt to our surroundings. At its very best, science makes the impossible, possible.

We recently read a story about how new advances in science and technology are helping people who have suffered paralysis from spinal cord injuries (SCI) learn to walk again. SCIs have always been permanent injuries, but now there is proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

A study published in Nature Medicine details exactly how neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and his team went about testing their technology on a small group of 27 people suffering from paralysis from spinal cord injuries. In this study, they focus on the results of “the first implant specifically designed to control movement by mimicking the signals the lower body usually receives from the brain and upper spinal cord.”

When the spinal cord is severed from an injury, it disrupts the electrical signals sent by the brain to the lower parts of the body below where the injury is – this is paralysis. However, the chain of neurons below the severed part of the spine usually remains intact. Several research teams have discovered that restoring some movement to the paralyzed part of the body is possible by taking devices designed to block chronic pain and applying an electrical current to the neuron.

Courtine’s group used magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography to map the size and layout of the neurons in the spinal cords of 27 people, and created a predictive model of the average spinal cord. This helped to show a surgeon where on the recipients’ bodies to place the implant’s electrodes. The researchers then fine-tuned the electrical current to each individual. A team including EPFL neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch implanted the device into three people whose spinal cords had been completely severed, causing paralysis in the lower body.

From there, the participants in the study could dictate what they wanted the lower part of their body to do by pushing buttons, controlling the pattern of electrical stimulation. For example, using a tablet, they could raise or lower a leg.

An exercise physiologist at the University of California, Reggie Edgerton, has also been working on how to help paralyzed people walk again by developing a less invasive approach, but one that can work hand in hand with Courtine’s devices. Edgerton uses electrodes attached to the skin, which activates neurons externally. The hope that stimulation can encourage the neurons to grow the correct connections and carry out the movement without the external stimulation. This type of method is useful in its own right but can also prove a stop-gap until the patient can be fitted with a device like Courtine’s.

There is light for those who have been paralyzed by a SCI, and yet hope to walk again. For those of us who are privileged to move on our own without hindrance, we should stay informed and be cautious of situations that can injure us so extremely that we lose our ability to walk.

Why are SCIs so catastrophic?

Spinal cord injuries are some of the more severe sorts of injuries you can sustain. With the spinal cord being the nexus of the central nervous system, any damage to this area can cause problems and pain for the rest of your body as well. For such an important part of your body, it is a delicate area that is susceptible to injury. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, about 18,000 Americans suffer some type of SCI each year. Of all people living with some form of paralysis in this country, about 40% are paraplegic, and about 12% are tetraplegic.

The lack of mobility is the primary concern of many people with SCI, but it is not the only concern. Paralysis can lead to a number of health complications, including increased chances of infection, respiratory and cardiac distress, and gastrointestinal conditions. On top of this, there are non-medical, day-to-day burdens that face victims and their families, including:

  • Current, ongoing, and future medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation
  • Lost income
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement

If you suffered an SCI due to the actions or negligence of another person, you can seek compensation for your expenses through a personal injury lawsuit. You already have to change your entire life; you shouldn’t have to pay for it, too.

Humanity can do great things. We see it in our developments in science and medicine. More and more, people are being saved and cured by the new devices and treatments we create, giving us all hope for the future itself. Paralysis by an SCI used to be an incurable condition, but that may no longer be the case. However, this new technology, as extraordinary as it is, does not mean you are not hurting now. There are still hospital bills to pay, work that is missed. If you have suffered a spinal cord injury, Rocky McElhaney Law Firm is here to help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at 615-425-2500 or you can fill out our contact form, if that’s easier for you. We’d love to set up a free consultation with you at one of our offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, or Clarksville.