May 2014

Paralyzed Men Regain Movement

Four young men paralyzed below the chest because of spinal injuries regained some movement after receiving an experimental treatment. If confirmed in larger studies, this type of therapy may improve outcomes for people living with paralysis.

NIH-funded researchers studied 4 men who had been paralyzed for more than 2 years. A small set of electrodes was implanted atop each man’s spinal cord just below his injury. The implant sends electrical signals that help evoke muscle activity.

Three of the men were tested just a few days after receiving spinal stimulation. All 3 had regained some voluntary control of muscles that had been paralyzed.

With daily spinal stimulation and physical training, all 4 treated patients gained better control of voluntary movement over time. It’s not clear if these improvements were due to the physical training, the spinal stimulation, or both.

The researchers are continuing clinical studies of additional patients to gather more data.

“Right now, the clinical perspective for individuals with complete motor paralysis is that there is nothing we can do. I think we need to rethink that,” says study co-author Dr. Susan Harkema of the University of Louisville. “In our study, we demonstrated potential beyond any expectation.”