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Spinal Stimulation Helps Paralyzed Man Regain Movement
Date:5/20/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- A patient completely paralyzed below the chest after an road accident has been able to stand up by himself, move his legs and feet and take some assisted steps on a treadmill, thanks to electrical stimulation of his lower spinal cord.

The technique -- called epidural spinal cord stimulation -- mimics signals the brain normally sends to start movement. In addition to returning voluntary movement to his hips, knees, ankles and toes, the treatment also was able to give the patient back some sexual and bladder function.

"This does not represent a cure for spinal cord injury, but it represents some very new ideas -- something to build on," lead researcher Reggie Edgerton, from the Department of Integrative Biology and Comparative Physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said during a press conference Thursday.

Edgerton said that the research demonstrated that patients could regain voluntary control over their movements, although so far only with the aid of stimulation.

"We have no idea what the mechanisms are," Edgerton said. "But it is pretty certain that the stimulation and the training have resulted in changes in the brain and changes in the spinal cord. We are really anxious to find out what the mechanism is -- we need to know how this occurred."

"This is a first-generation approach, but there will be many generations to come, which will improve on what has been done," he added.

While experts expressed excitement about the findings, they stressed that no one yet knows whether this procedure will work for patients with the most serious spinal injuries and that the results need to be replicated in other studies.

For the patient, Rob Summers, however, this is already a major breakthrough. "This procedure has completely changed my life," he said in a statement to the press.

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