In one of the most significant medical advancements of recent times, a noninvasive spinal cord stimulation method called transcutaneous stimulation allowed five men with paralysis move their legs for the first time after getting paralyzed. The noninvasive treatment allowed the men to move their legs similar to walking. Each of these men had been paralyzed for 2 to 6 years.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this is an extremely significant event. It’s the first time in the history of medical science that fully paralyzed patients could simulate the movement of walking without the need of undergoing surgery.
Although all five patients could move both their legs, one must remember that the researchers have not yet succeeded in gathering any evidence regarding whether the patients can be re-taught how to carry their own body weight or walk. Nonetheless, the results obtained thus far have left the researchers involved in the study deeply surprised.
Each session of transcutaneous stimulation lasted for 45 minutes. The five patients who took part in the study underwent one session every week.
The study has been published in the Journal of Neurotrauma and was conducted by researchers representing the Pavlov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, the University of California in San Francisco, and the University of California in Los Angeles. The study has been funded partially by the NIH.
Researchers have developed this new technique based on a study published in the journal Brain in April 2014. That study revealed that the spine of a paralyzed patient still possesses functional potential, which can be unlocked using electrical stimulation.
Researchers conducting the 2014 study showed that four patients receiving electrode implants in the spine managed to regain their leg movement partly. Studies conducted on amputees also showed that electrodes attached to their active nerves or muscles allowed them to manipulate prosthetics.
Researchers carrying out this new study were looking for a way to generate similar results, but without making patients undergo any surgery. According to them, the potential of offering life-changing treatments to patients without making them undergo a surgery would mark a major advancement in the field of medical science. They believe getting access to such therapy will significantly increase the number of patients who might be benefited by spinal stimulation.