Gregoire Courtine, from the Experimental Neurorehabilitation Laboratory in the Department of Neurology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that "this is good evidence that the human spinal cord responds to stimulation, [a technique that] was observed in rats."
Courtine thinks it's too early to know what this bodes for the treatment of spinal cord injury. "This is only one patient," he said. "But this is the first time someone with a chronic complete paralysis has shown recovery of some movement."
Whether it will work with patients with the most serious injuries is uncertain, Courtine said. "But there are patients with less serious injury in whom you may expect even better recovery," he said.
"We are entering a new era, but it's only the beginning," Courtine said. While this is not a cure, it could lead the way to help patients regain movement, he said, adding that improved technology and clinical trials will be needed.
Another expert, Dr. Steven Vanni, an assistant professor of clinical neurosurgery, Spine Service, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "if they can replicate this, [it] would be something we could offer our patients currently, with patients with these type of spinal cord injuries."
As for Summers, he is optimistic that the procedure will transform his life still further. "I believe that epidural stimulation will get me out of this chair," he said.
For more information on spinal cord injury, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Gregoire Courtine, Ph.D., Experimental Neurorehabilitation Laboratory, Department of Neurology, University of Zurich, Switzerland; Steven Vanni, M.D., ass
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