Three paralyzed men are walking again thanks to targeted neurotechnology
Spinal implants deliver intermittent bursts to stimulate movement.
- Three paralyzed men are walking in Switzerland thanks to modified spinal implants.
- The implants provided intermittent as opposed to continuous stimulation.
- This isn't a cure for paralysis, but the work appears to indicate a promising future.
Three paralyzed men are walking again in Switzerland with the help of a team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The innovative rehabilitation process the trio went through is now being studied to mimic its results for others in similar circumstances.
In terms of the treatment, the men first walked on a treadmill while being supported by a gurney-like device as they received jolts from sensors that were placed on their legs and feet. They then left the treadmill and walked across the ground while still receiving electric stimulation. A few months later, they were able to regain their ability to walk without the assistance of any sort of electrical stimulation whatsoever.
It's worth breaking down some of the details that went into each stage of the process: on the treadmill, for instance, participants adjusted the elevation of their step, the speed of their stride, and were asked to see if they could stop moving their legs even though they were receiving electrical stimulation. They then walked on the treadmill for an hour. They then did this activity for three months, participating in rehab 4–5 times per week. After this time, they were then able to walk hands-free without the 'hip assist' provided by the gurney-like device.
One of the curiosities that occurred during this process was the discovery that intermittent stimulation works. Continuous electric stimulation of the spinal cord, on the other hand, enabled rats to walk again, but it didn't have the same results in humans. Indeed, when it was used on the participants, they reported a loss of sensory awareness as to where their limbs even were. This appears to be explained by the fact that areas of the body that contain a single motor neuron seem to respond more effectively to low-grade stimulation than a continuous loop.
The results described here don't represent a blanket cure for paralysis. It's worth noting, for instance, that each stimulation of the spine was personalized to the three participants. The scientists at Lausanne created "an atlas of motor neuron activation maps" using a combination of MRI scans and CT scans.
But that doesn't make the results here any less impressive, noteworthy, or inspiring. As reported by the BBC, one of the doctors noted one of the patient's determination to succeed —
"I came with my daughter, Charlotte, who was one month old at the time. As we approached David, he looked her in the eye and said, 'I will walk before you'.
"When Charlotte took her first step she was 14 months old, by which time David was walking by Lake Geneva.
"He said to her, 'I have beaten you.'"
The study, which was published in Nature, can be read in full here.
Image source: Nature
- Swiss Startup Aims To Help Paralyzed People Walk ›
- Spinal implant that could make paralysis patients walk again ... ›
- Swiss science: targeted electrical stimulation helps paralysed men ... ›
- Paralyzed patients walk again with help of spinal implant - CBS News ›
- Spinal implant helps three paralysed men walk again - BBC News ›
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
The phenomenon that makes our favourite drinks bubbly is, alarmingly, the same one that causes decompression sickness in divers. Why do we still love it?
If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.
- For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
- Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
- Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.