A research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that spinal cord stimulation could help paralyzed people move again. More details about this study can be found in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
The study involved five men who were monitored for 18 weeks. Over this period the participants underwent a 45-minute training session every week. For a period of three weeks the paralyzed men were given daily doses of buspirone twice. This is a drug which is usually used for anxiety disorders.
Besides this the scientists placed electrodes on the participants’ skin in strategic points: near the tailbone and at the lower back. In addition the men were administered a particular pattern of electrical currents. The patients were lying down and the electrical charges did not cause them any discomfort.
Thanks to this noninvasive procedure which stimulated the spinal cords the participants were able to move their legs in a rhythmic motion even though they had been completely paralyzed. This study is considered to be the first one which succeeds in making legs move voluntary in the case of completely paralyzed patients without using surgery.
Professor of integrative biology and neurobiology, physiology and neurosurgery Reggie Edgerton from UCLA was the the lead author of the study. He said that the results of this study suggest that researchers should look at spinal cord injury in a different way. Even though years will pass before new approaches will be applied Edgerton said that he believes that this makes it possible for people with severe spinal cord injuries to enjoy an improved quality of life. Moreover such new approaches could help them recover various body functions.
Edgerton emphasized that paralyzed people are often told that they should not hope in vain to recover function below the lesion. This has been going on for decades, but now it will become ridiculous, he added.
The research team cannot yet tell whether patients who are completely paralyzed will be completely cured, but this latest study certainly offers hope. Edgerton remarked:
Many people thought just a few years ago we might be able to achieve these results in perhaps one out of 100 subjects, but now we have nine of nine. I think it’s a big deal, and when the subjects see their legs moving for the first time after paralysis, they say it’s a big deal.”
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