Nearly 1.3 million people suffer paralysis because of spinal cord injuries in the US. What’s worse is that there isn’t an effective treatment for people with this type of injury. A new implantable device has been developed that can help. Although this new discovery can’t completely “cure” the effects of these injuries, it can still do a lot. It can help them regain basic body functions. Just this can make the lives a little less painful and stressful for the affected patients. It has successfully been tested on a few patients.
Kelly Thomas, one such patient was in a truck when it flipped over back in 2014. She incurred many severe injuries and suffers from paralysis. Back then, a treatment didn’t exist that could help her. She was told she’d probably never walk again. But with help from the spinal cord implant, she can now walk on her own again. Although she still needs a walker to walk on her own, that’s better than not being able to walk at all. She also gained muscle and lost the nerve pain in her foot that has persisted since her accident. Another such patient is Jeff Marquis. He suffered paralysis after getting into a mountain biking accident. With the help of the device, even he can walk on his own again.
When Thomas walked for the first time after the accident, she said, “it was like watching fireworks, but from the inside.” “Something I was never supposed to do ever just happened. It was awesome. There’s no other feeling like it in the world.” Thomas calls the device “Junior,” it’s a 16-electrode array that provides electrical stimulation to the spinal cord. With the combination of intense training and a little help from the implanted device, Thomas can walk again.
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However, there have also been instances where the device didn’t work as expected. Two other study participants at the University of Louisville did not re-learn how to walk. Although they can now stand and their legs have regained movement. The technology has a long way to go before it can be useful for every patient. This is the first time that anybody with complete spinal cord injury has successfully re-learned to walk.
Junior is the RestoreAdvanced SureScan MRI Neurostimulator made by Medtronic. It has also been approved by the FDA. The device can be controlled with a remove. Animal research has proved that spinal stimulation can help paralysis patients. Paralyzed people can make stepping-like movements while lying down with spinal cord stimulation. Hence researchers believe the parts of the spinal cord responsible for walking should still work in these patients.
They’re still investing how all of this works and it will take time before it proves to be a viable treatment. But this technology could prove to be extremely helpful. It could change the lives of people who suffer from paralysis.