Electrical Stimulation of Spine Allows Paraplegic Man to Walk Again
A former college baseball star left paraplegic following a tragic hit and run auto accident is now able to stand and even walk on a treadmill thanks to electrical stimulation of his spine. The BBC reports that Rob Summers, from Oregon, can move his toes, hips, knees, and ankles on his own and walk on a treadmill with support. He’s also regained his bladder and bowel function.
Summers was once an accomplished baseball player and a member of the 2006 College World Series champion Oregon State Beavers. But that summer he was paralyzed in a hit and run accident.
Doctors surgically implanted 16 electrodes in Summers’ spine and his rehabilitation therapy consisted of daily attempts at standing, moving his legs and walking while electrical pulses were sent coursing through his spine. Amazingly, after just a few days he could stand on his own.
“When Rob regained voluntary control of his leg, I was afraid to believe it when I saw it,” UCLA researcher Dr. Reggie Edgerton, who was instrumental in developing the revolutionary treatment, said at a news conference. “What nobody has ever demonstrated is that epidural stimulation at modest levels enables an individual to have conscious control of body motion. Someone with paralysis for several years can now control his movement. This has never been done before.”
As for Summers, he says that “being able to stand for first time was both emotional and exciting. After years of seeing no gains or recovered function, I was able to see my hard work pay off. It was as rewarding as anything I have ever done in my life… For someone who for four years was unable to even move a toe, to have the freedom and ability to stand on my own is the most amazing feeling.”
But researchers warn that this doesn’t mean that every paralyzed person will now be able to walk. They stress that it has worked for one patient, although Summers’ success is definitely a very promising development.
“From the point of view of people currently suffering from spinal cord injury, future trials of this procedure could add one more approach to getting some benefit. It is not and does not claim to be a cure,” UCLA neurologist Geoffrey Raisman told the BBC.
Dr. Melissa Andrews of the Cambridge Center for Brain Repair told the BBC that “people need to read this and say the possibility is out there, but it may not come tomorrow. It’s the closest we’ve ever seen and it’s the best hope right now.”
“Stay tuned, we’re going to learn a lot more every day,” added Dr. Susan Harkema of the University of Louisville, who was part of the Summers research team.
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