Paralyzed man walks again with an innovative spinal implant that mimics the brain

Men who have been paralyzed for more than two years can now walk again with a breakthrough Swiss treatment that reactivates muscles by inserting spinal implants and attaching electrodes to individual nerve fibers.

Michael Roccati was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2017, leaving the lower half completely paralyzed. Later, Roccati enrolled in a research program at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne to develop an implant to send an electrical impulse to the muscle that mimics the action of the brain.

“It was a very emotional experience,” Roccati told journalists about the feeling of taking his first step with the system.

Epidural electrical stimulation (EES) in EPFL focuses on the dorsal root of the lumbosacral segment of the spine and restores walking ability in people suffering from spinal cord injury (SCI).

Roccati was one of three patients who was part of the first EES study. Nature medicine On February 7, after the accident, all participants paralyzed their lower body.

So far, nine people have received implants, one of whom was able to become a father after surgery, according to the BBC.

EES works by implanting electrodes on the nerves of the spinal cord. The system was developed by Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital, and Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The spinal nerves that control body movements are stimulated by electrical pulses supplied by electrodes. Pulses are triggered by software that directs certain body movements such as walking or cycling.

The researchers tested EES in three individuals with complete sensorimotor paralysis. “Within a day, activity-specific stimulus programs have enabled these three individuals to stand, walk, cycle, swim, and control core movements. , Mediating improvements sufficient to restore these activities in a community environment, paving the way for supporting the daily movement of people with SCI by EES, “the study summary states.

The first steps of the three were difficult. They needed considerable upper body strength and a support bar to move, but at least they were able to start the rehab process.

Four months later, Locati was able to walk using only the frame to maintain balance. He can now stand for up to 2 hours and walk almost 1 km (a little over 0.5 miles) without stopping.

Although EES has incredible prospects, researchers are not yet ready to make EES available for treatment because they believe that important work needs to be done. Trials are planned for 50 to 100 participants in the United States and Europe.

Researchers are also aiming to miniaturize the computer that activates the pulse so that the device can be implanted in the patient’s body. You can then control the device via your smartphone.

“They have done something that has never been done before … I have never heard of the research they put in implants. [into a patient with a complete spinal cord cut] He showed sufficient improvement in muscle movement and balance to stand and walk, “Dr. Ramhari Haran, a consultant at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, told the BBC. Hari Haran is an independent member of the research team.

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