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Caltech research helps paraplegic man stand and move legs voluntarily
Date:5/19/2011

ies and the earlier work of Edgerton and Gerasimenko, Burdick and Yu-Chong Tai, a Caltech professor of electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, introduced the concept of high-density epidural spinal stimulation, which uses sheet-like arrays of numerous electrodes to stimulate neurons. The goal of the system, Burdick says, "is to stimulate the native standing and stepping control circuitry in the lower spinal cord so as to coordinate sensory-motor activity and partially replace the missing signals from above"that is, from the brain"and shout 'get going!' to the nerves."

To test this concept, which was first explored in animal models, the team used a commercially available electrode array, which is normally used to treat back pain. While this commercial array does not have all of the capabilities of the arrays tested so far in animals, it allowed the team to test the viability of high-density epidural stimulation in humans. The results, Burdick says, "far exceeded" the researchers' expectations.

The subject in the new work is a 25-year-old former athlete who was completely paralyzed below the chest in a hit-and-run accident in July 2006. He suffered a complete motor injury at the C7/T1 level of the spinal cord, but retained some sensation in his legs.

Before being implanted with the epidural stimulating array, the patient underwent 170 locomotor training sessions over a period of more than two years at the University of Louisville's Frazier Rehab Institute. In locomotor training, a rehabilitative technique used on partially paralyzed patients, the body of the patient is suspended in a harness over a moving treadmill while trained therapists repeatedly help manipulate the legs in a repetitive stepping motion.

The training had essentially no effect on this patient, confirming the severity of his spinal injury. The training also established a "baseline" against which the subsequent efficacy of the electrical stimulation co
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Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges
debwms@caltech.edu
626-395-3227
California Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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