Comparisons between the functional abilities of the two groups showed that stimulation therapy "significantly reduced disability and improved voluntary grasping beyond the effects of considerable conventional upper extremity therapy in individuals with tetraplegia," the authors write.
Dr. Popovic notes that patients who received only occupational therapy saw a "gentle improvement" in their grasping ability, but the level of improvement achieved with FES therapy was at least three times greater using the Spinal Cord Independence Measure, which evaluates degree of disability in patients with spinal cord injury.
A biomedical engineer, Dr. Popovic holds the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Chair in Spinal Cord Injury Research. He is also a professor in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto.
Based on their findings, the study's authors recommend that stimulation therapy should be part of the therapeutic process for people with incomplete spinal cord injuries whose hand function is impaired. Dr. Popovic's team is working to make this a reality. They have almost completed a prototype of their stimulator, but need financial support to take it forward. Dr. Popovic thinks the device could be available to hospitals within a year of being funded.
"FES (stimulation therapy) has the potential to have a significant and positive impact on the lives of individuals living with the devastating results of spinal cord injury," says Dr. Anthony Burns, Medical Director of Toronto Rehab's spinal cord rehabilitation program. Calling the trial "groundbreaking," Dr. Burns says he will work with Dr. Popovic "to make this intervention available to our patients, and to answer important questions such as the duration of the effect."
One limitation of the
|Contact: Carolyn Lovas|
Toronto Rehabilitation Institute