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03 November 2018, 07:11 | Melissa Porter
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption'I always dreamed of walking again
It's very rare to see a spinal cord that was this silent, ' says Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, referring to an nearly undetectable level of electrical activity in Tobler's lower spine.
He said that after two days, the new movement became nearly natural to the subjects and within a week, they were able to walk with limited assistance.
"The field of spinal cord injury is poised to take a giant leap forward in the treatment of what was until very recently considered incurable paralysis", he wrote.
David M'zee, a 30-year-old Swiss man who was told by doctors he would never walk again after a sporting accident, is now able to walk around half a mile with the implant turned on.
Three patients with severe spinal cord injuries are walking again, thanks to a wireless implant which delivers electrical stimulation to the spinal cord. Scientists think the implant's electrical stimulation adds enough power back to the brain's commands to get muscles moving again. The implanted device was developed to treat pain, but when combined with 5 months of intensive physical therapy, it restored movement years after a paralyzing injury, researchers reported yesterday in Nature.
"If we can stimulate the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system at the same time, the additive effects could restart touch perception and movement in some people". It is still in its early stages but, so far, it has corrected spinal-cord injuries in patients of varying stages of paralysis. "There's a complex network of information coming back into the spinal cord from the leg about where your leg is in space".
All three study participants were able to walk with body-weight support after only one week spent calibrating the nerve stimulation to their individual brain patterns, Courtine said. Walking actually came in fourth, behind sexual function, bladder and bowel movement, and the ability to control body posture. Mzee, whose left leg had been completely paralyzed after a gymnastics accident, had undergone extensive rehabilitation treatment, but with little progress. I'm surprised at what we have been able to do. With EES switched on, he's able to walk using a walker.
"It was a very emotional moment the first time they walked", he said. He is also starting a new company called GTX Medical to continue helping patients after the study, and to promote the technology.
Professor Courtine has been working in this area for 15 years and said the results were "amazing". After a few months, participants regained voluntary control over previously paralysed muscles without stimulation and could walk or cycle in ecological settings during spatiotemporal stimulation. Moreover, they exhibited no leg-muscle fatigue, and so there was no deterioration in stepping quality. 'And [Tobler] needs a walker.' Courtine built a mobile app that allows the patients to turn their stimulators on or off remotely, so they could train at home after the study ended.
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