Spinal Implant May Be the Solution to Paralysis

An implanted electrode that stimulates the spinal cord, has helped a paraplegic man to regain the ability to move his legs and walk, according to researchers at Mayo Clinic.

Jered Chinnock, a 29-year-old man, lost total motor control and sensation below the middle of his back after he was involved in a 2013 snowmobile crash.

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However, after surgeons implanted the electrode below the level of his spinal cord injury, he was able to regain voluntary control of the movement in his legs.

Co-principal investigator Dr. Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Laboratories in Rochester, Minn., explained that Chinnock’s mind or thoughts were able to drive the movement in the legs.

Also, related results were reported Monday for patients who got the same type of treatment in a study conducted at the University of Louisville.

Researchers said Chinnock can now can walk about the length of a football field, around 111 yards.

Lee said; “We were able to get him to stand freely and take his own steps. The amount of steps he was able to take was pretty significant.”

Researchers aren’t certain why this electrical stimulation allows the brain to take control of the legs, Lee said.

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Lee stated that the electrode is placed below the level of the injury, stimulating nervous tissue that is connected to the leg muscles.

Kristin Zhao, co-principal investigator and director of Mayo Clinic’s Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory said; “It’s possible that despite the injury, there remain some residual intact nerve fibers capable of transmitting brain signals to the legs.”

How it works

This study started in 2016, with Chinnock receiving his electrode implant after 22 weeks of physical therapy. According to Lee, the implant was positioned in the epidural space that covers the spinal cord. It is connected to a pulse generator implanted just below the skin of his abdomen.

Researchers can wirelessly program the pulse generator to provide specific electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, Lee said. After recuperating from surgery, Chinnock had 43 weeks of concentrated physical treatment involving 113 visits to the Mayo Clinic.

Chinnock was eventually able to walk over ground using a front-wheeled walker and on a treadmill with his arms on support bars to help with balance.

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The researchers noted that by the end of the study period, Chinnock learned to use his entire body to maintain balance, transfer weight, and drive himself forward.

However, his legs move only when the pulse generator is activated, Lee said.

“The stimulation absolutely has to be turned on,” Lee said. “We found you have to deliver a very specific type of stimulation. A random stimulation does not work.”

Chinnock cannot still feel anything below the site of his spinal cord injury, Lee added.

Though he cannot yet walk independently outside the lab, but he performs regular leg exercises at home while standing or sitting, Zhao said.

Chinnock said the implant also has helped him in bowhunting, which is one of his favorite hobbies.

“My sitting balance and stuff has gotten a lot better. Like, I can shoot my bow a lot better because I’m able to hold have more trunk support and stuff,” he said in a video released by Mayo.

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Chinnock said his goal is to become “completely independent be where I needed a walker, but I didn’t need anybody else to help me. I mean, that’s kind of a goal, but the main goal is to not need anything.”

The electrical stimulator Chinnock has is one designed for nerve pain. The research team got approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use it in this new way.

Article source: Webmd

Image source: Mayoclinic


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