PASADENA, Calif.A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the University of Louisville have used a stimulating electrode array to assist a paralyzed man to stand, step on a treadmill with assistance, and, over time, to regain voluntary movements of his limbs. The electrical signals provided by the array, the researchers have found, stimulate the spinal cord's own neural network so that it can use the sensory input derived from the legs to direct muscle and joint movements.
Rather than bypassing the man's nervous system to directly stimulate the leg muscles, this approach takes advantage of the inherent control circuitry in the lower spinal cord (below the level of the injury) to control standing and stepping motions.
The study is published today in the British medical journal The Lancet.
More than 5.6 million Americans live with some form of paralysis; of these, 1.3 million have had spinal-cord injuries, often resulting in complete paralysis of the lower extremities, along with loss of bladder and bowel control, sexual response, and other autonomous functions.
The work originated with a series of animal experiments beginning in the 1980s by study coauthors V. Reggie Edgerton and Yury Gerasimenko of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA that ultimately showed that animals with spinal-cord injuries could stand, balance, bear weight, and take coordinated steps while being stimulated epidurallythat is, in the space above the dura, the outermost of the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Starting eight years ago, Joel Burdick, a professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at Caltech, teamed with the Edgerton lab to study how robotically guided physical therapy and pharmacology could be coupled to better recover locomotion in animals with spinal-cord injuries
Building upon these stud
|Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges|
California Institute of Technology