Epidural Stimulation Study Allows Three More Paralyzed People to Take Steps

In September, a breakthough in epidural stimulation research made global headlines.  The New England Journal of Medicine published work from The Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville, which announced that four paralyzed people regained the ability to walk after being implanted with a stimulation device and undergoing months of physical training.
Now, a new study published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience has revealed similar results in three more spinal cord injured subjects.
Epidural stimulation involves surgery that implants a set of electrodes directly on to a person’s injured spinal cord.  A power pack is also implanted underneath the person’s skin.  When the device is turned on, the spinal cord is stimulated and messages are sent to the body that bypass the injury.  (Above photo credit: The Guardian)
Dr. Susan Harkema, Director of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), was first behind epidural stimulation 8 years ago that restored function in multiple people with motor complete spinal cord injury.   Over the last several years her research has expanded and major milestones have been met.  First, epidural stimulation provided the ability to stand.  Then, bits of voluntary and task-specific movement were discovered.   Finally, unassisted STEPS took place.
All of these successes were performed in labs, and were combined with an incredible amount of time and repetition, but the results are fascinating, and the knowledge is still in its infancy.
NeuroHope joined the Reeve Foundation NRN earlier this year.  As a result, we are now one of a select number of sites in the world that is using what has been discovered about the unique electrical parameters in the implants, and investigating if it can be translated to Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) over the skin.  NMES is similar to Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES), but uses pre-programmed, task specific activities set at exclusive FDA-approved parameters that are aimed at targeting both the muscle and the circuitry of the spinal cord itself.
It is not yet known if NMES has the ability to promote neurorecovery, but we are proud to begin data collection for the NRN and thankful for the opportunity to offer it in a plan of care for our clients.