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Cleveland researchers develop technology to give spinal cord injury patients use of hands back

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CLEVELAND — Ground-breaking, life-changing research is happening at MetroHealth Medical Center when it comes to spinal cord injuries and giving people function back.

Dr. Kim Anderson is on the team of about two dozen researchers and physicians working on the technology, which is an electrical stimulation device that gets implanted within the body.

She herself has one of the implants — one of only five people in the world — giving her use of her hands back more than 30 years after she was paralyzed in a car accident. It allows her do simple tasks like opening a refrigerator door.

“It’s rewarding. It means that everything I’ve struggled through is worth something,” Dr. Anderson said. “And I work really hard to pay it forward so other people can benefit from it as well.”

Dr. Kevin Kilgore came to MetroHealth back in 1983 as a graduate student.

He has been working on making progress in the field of spinal cord rehab ever since.

“People who are severely paralyzed can gain function that they can’t gain anywhere else in the world really. And people are coming here from all over to try to get this treatment,” Dr. Kilgore explained.

Dr. Kilgore said the implant uses electrical stimulation — short pulses — much like a pacemaker.

“But instead of getting the heart to stimulate, we stimulate muscles that are paralyzed,” Dr. Kilgore said.

Dr. Richard Wilson is a rehab physician. He said there are only 14 spinal cord injury model system centers in the country — and MetroHealth is proud to be among them.

“From all over the world, they come to get access to this technology that’s not available anywhere else,” Dr. Wilson said. “And the current technology could potentially help somebody use their arm, it could help them breathe, could effect bowel and bladder.”

Their research and advancements are so well-known, in fact, that Christopher Reeve came to Cleveland for his implant and rehab.

The team recently received a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin training other centers on the technology, so that it can become more widely available. They are also working with the FDA through the regulatory process.

This weekend, the 14th annual Science and Advocacy “Working 2 Walk” Symposium is being held in downtown Cleveland, brought by Unite 2 Fight Paralysis. People with spinal cord injuries who have benefited from the implants will be speaking as MetroHealth researchers discuss the advancements and progress they have made.

By: Homa Bash
Reporter for WEWS News 5 in Cleveland, Ohio

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