Spinal-cord stimulation allows three paralyzed men to walk with assistance

Multiple combined images of a man starting out in a wheelchair progressing to using a wheeled walker.

Enlarge / A composite image showing David Mzee standing and walking with assistance. (credit: EPFL / Hillary Sanctuary)

“It’s an amazing feeling,” says David Mzee, whose left leg was paralyzed in 2010. Mzee has now regained some ability to walk thanks to a breakthrough in spinal-cord stimulation technology. “I can do a knee extension of my left leg... flex my hip and even move my toes.”

Mzee is one of three participants in a study that used a new technique to overcome spinal-cord injury and restore walking ability in patients with varying degrees of paralysis. The results, published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience today, are dramatic. All three patients recovered some degree of walking ability, and their progress in physical-therapy sessions has translated to improved mobility in their daily lives.

The basis of the technique, called epidural electrical stimulation (EES), is not new at all—it’s been investigated as a potential treatment for paralysis for decades, with a lot of success in animals. And in September this year, two separate papers reported breakthroughs in allowing patients with paralysis to walk, with assistance, as a result of EES.

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