According to the World Health Organisation, up to a half-million people around the world suffer a spinal cord injury each year. Often caused by road traffic crashes, accidents or violence, the loss of motor control or paralysis significantly impacts quality of life and requires years of treatment and care. Spinal cord injury is also associated with lower rates of school enrollment and economic participation, and carries substantial individual and societal costs.
Current methods for spinal cord injury treatment involve cumbersome brain-machine interfaces, with many cables linking the patient and a computer to restore limited motor functions.
In a hospital in Switzerland, permanently paralyzed people are now learning to walk again with the help of stimulating electrodes implanted in their spines. For Grégoire Courtine, professor of neuroprosthetics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), this day has been a long time coming. “It took us 15 years to get from paralyzed rats to the first steps in humans,” he says. “Maybe in 10 more years, our technology will be ready for the clinic.”
Courtine has made it his mission to reverse paralysis. He started 15 years ago with those paralyzed rats, putting tiny electrical implants into their spines to stimulate nerve fibers below the site of their spinal cord injuries.
UCLA scientists test electrical stimulation that bypasses injury; technique boosts patient’s finger control, grip strength up to 300 percent
A spinal stimulator being tested by doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is showing promise in restoring hand strength and movement to a California man who broke his neck in a dirt bike accident five years ago.
In June, Brian Gomez, now 28, became one of the first people in the world to undergo surgery for the experimental device.
“We are trying to improve someone’s quality of life. If someone can breathe without a ventilator, then you’ve increased their independence, and that, to me, is a huge success.” –Michael Lane, PhD
Walking is not the top priority for many patients who have suffered from cervical spinal cord injuries, according to Michael Lane, PhD, an assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine.
MOST doctors study for years so they can help others but for Southport’s Dinesh Palipana, it is much more personal.
A month out from his graduation ceremony at Griffith University, the 32-year-old doesn’t just want to help others, he also wants to help himself.
“I’ve had a vested interest and a passion to cure spinal cord injury and cure myself in the process,” he said.
Part-way through his medical degree in 2010, Mr Palipana was driving home to the Gold Coast from visiting his parents in Brisbane when his car aquaplaned on a wet road and overturned near the Gateway Bridge.
JANINE Shepherd should have died 28 years ago.
Her body was broken and paralysed from the waist down. Doctors told her parents to prepare for the worst. Even when she rolled out of hospital in a wheelchair six months later, lucky to be alive, they said she’d never walk again or have children.
“I thought about giving up,” Janine tells news.com.au. “But there was something inside of me that thought, ‘I’ve come back for a reason … I’d better bloody find out what it is.’