Four young men who have been paralyzed for years achieved groundbreaking progress — moving their legs!
Writing in the journal Brain, the researchers from the University of Louisville, UCLA and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology say the breakthrough is a result of epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord (I always thought of epidurals in a different context). All four participants were classified as suffering from chronic, motor complete spinal cord injuries and were unable to move their lower extremities prior to the implantation of an epidural stimulator. The stimulator delivers a continuous electrical current to the participants’ lower spinal cords, mimicking signals the brain normally transmits to initiate movement.
A May 2011 study in The Lancet evaluated the effects of epidural stimulation in the first participant, Rob Summers of Portland, Ore., who recovered a number of motor functions as a result of the intervention.
Now, three years later, the key findings documented in Brain detail the impact of epidural stimulation in a total four participants, including new tests conducted on Summers. Summers was paralyzed after being struck by a vehicle, and the other three participants were paralyzed in auto or motorcycle accidents.
What is revolutionary, the scientists said, is that the second, third and fourth participants — Kent Stephenson of Mt. Pleasant, Texas; Andrew Meas of Louisville, Ky.; and Dustin Shillcox of Green River, Wyo. — were able to execute voluntary movements immediately following the implantation and activation of the stimulator.