Epidural stimulation therapy helps paralyzed patient regain movement

Written by Frances Adlam

A collaborative group of researchers from Mayo Clinic (MN, USA) and the University of California, Los Angeles (CA, USA) has treated a patient with motor complete spinal cord injury with a combination of spinal cord electrical stimulation and intensive physical therapy. The results of this study, recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, saw the patient regaining control over some previously paralyzed movements for the first time in three years.
The patient, a 26 year old male, had injured his spinal cord at the sixth thoracic vertebrae, leading to a loss of sensation below the middle of his torso. The team set to revert the effects of this injury, replicating a method developed at the University of Louisville (KY, USA).

The rehabilitation began with 22 weeks of physical therapy, with three training sessions a week, to strengthen the patient’s muscles ahead of the spinal cord stimulation. The team conducted regular checks and found evidence to suggest the presence of dormant connections across the patient’s injury.

The patient then underwent surgery to implant the electrode into the epidural space below the area of injured spinal cord. Following three weeks of recovery, the patient restarted physical therapy.

Within the first two weeks of physical therapy the patient regained some movement in his legs while lying on his side. He was able to make step-like motions lying on his side and when standing with partial support. He was also able to stand independently using arm support bars for balance. This volitional movement demonstrates some degree of neuronal recovery.

“We’re really excited, because our results went beyond our expectations,” commented principle investigator, Kendall Lee (Mayo Clinic). “These are initial findings, but the patient is continuing to make progress.”

“While these are early results, it speaks to how Mayo Clinic researchers relentlessly pursue discoveries and innovative solutions that address the unmet needs of patients,” commented the executive dean of research, Gregory Gores, also from the Mayo Clinic. “These teams highlight Mayo Clinic’s unique culture of collaboration, which brings together scientists and physician experts who work side by side to accelerate scientific discoveries into critical advances for patient care.”

Sources: Grahn PJ, Layrov IA, Savenko DG, et al. Enabling task-specific volitional motor functions via spinal cord neuromodulation in a human with paraplegia. Mayo Clin. Proc. 92(4), 544–554 (2017); http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/man-moves-paralyzed-legs-using-device-that-stimulates-spinal-cord/