Personalized electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, using “electrode paddles” designed specifically for spinal cord injuries, achieved short-term restoration of independent motor movements in three patients with complete sensorimotor paralysis, the journal Nature Medicine reported Monday.

This technique developed by a Swiss team of researchers, which is part of an ongoing clinical trial, demonstrates that specially designed stimulation treatments for each patient, rather than more general ones, result in “superior efficacy and more diverse motor activities” even in the most severe spinal cord injuries.

Grégoire Courtine and Jocelyne Bloch, in charge of the experiment, note that electrical stimulation of the spinal cord is currently a promising therapeutic option for restoring motor function in people with spinal cord injury.

But they point out that, until now, continuous electrical stimulation therapies using “adapted” neurotechnologies, which were originally designed to treat pain, have mostly been employed.

These tailored electrical stimulation devices “fail to stimulate all the spinal cord nerves associated with leg and trunk movements, which may limit recovery of all motor functions,” they note.

Courtine and Bloch designed, along with their teams, a new electrode paddle that reaches all the nerves associated with leg and trunk movements, which they tested on three male volunteers aged 29 to 41 years.

The team further combined this technology with “a customized computational framework that allowed them to precisely position the electrode paddle for each of the patients and to customize the activity stimulation programs,” they explain.

This “optimized approach” to spinal cord stimulation restored independent walking and other motor activities, such as pedaling and swimming, to the three patients, who have complete paralysis of the legs, in a single day.

Subsequent neurorehabilitation helped these three men to be able to perform these activities independently, with the help of a tablet, outside the laboratory, the authors say.

The researchers say their study demonstrates that a personalized spinal cord stimulation treatment is more effective, opening the door to helping people with a wide range of spinal cord injuries.


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