Spinal cord injury (SCI) patients around the world could benefit from the “unprecedented breakthrough” of electrical stimulation therapy. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation funded an electrical stimulation therapy study in which four young paralyzed men received an epidural electrical stimulator implantation. The results, which were published in the medical journal Brain, are very encouraging.
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Electrical Stimulation Therapy Study
The therapy involves implanting an electrical stimulator in the lower abdomen and controlling it with an external remote control. The device is connected to wires that send electrical pulses through the body to the spinal cord.
With the therapy, the patients were able to develop movements. They’ve been able to wiggle their toes, move their legs, sit up without support, and even bear some weight on their legs. Walking may not be possible yet, but the increased mobility has numerous health benefits and could improve quality of life.
“If you can change health and wellness and life expectancy, to me that’s a home run. Remember, Christopher Reeve died from complications of immobility,” said Dr. Barth Green, co-founder of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami, according to CNN. Dr. Green was not part of the study.
Although other studies have used electrical stimulation on SCI patients in the past, this was the first therapy that has enabled the patients to perform voluntary movement. The patients are extremely thrilled with the results, as are the researchers, and there have been more than 1,700 patients inquiring about the therapy so far, reports CNN.
Benefits of the Electrical Stimulation
Researcher and lead study author Claudia Angeli, Ph.D. comments: “Because of epidural stimulation, they can now voluntarily move their hips, ankles and toes. This is groundbreaking for the entire field and offers a new outlook that the spinal cord, even after a severe injury, has great potential for functional recovery.”
In addition to regaining some motor function of the lower extremities, other benefits of the therapy include:
- increased muscle mass;
- improved blood pressure regulation;
- reduced fatigue;
- improved heart and respiratory function;
- improvements in patients’ sense of well-being;
- improved bladder and bowel control and sexual function; and
- the ability to bear weight independently.
These are the types of things Christopher Reeve dreamed of and worked so hard to facilitate. Susan Harkema, Ph.D., director of the Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network, remarks: “The belief that no recovery is possible and complete paralysis is permanent has been challenged.”
More Information on Electrical Stimulation Therapy for SCI Patients
To learn more about the therapy and the study, you can visit ChristopherReeve.org, go to the research section, and peruse the 2014 Epidural Stimulation Center page.
You will find a wealth of informative and inspiriting information there including:
- links to the published article about the study;
- bios and photos of the four study participants;
- info about the scientists;
- FAQs about the study; and
- several videos with participant interview and footage of the electrical stimulation therapy in action.
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