Thanks to a few doctors from Switzerland, there are three men that used to be paralyzed and believed they would be spending the rest of their lives wheelchair-bound, that recently regained the ability to walk.
All three of the men had different injuries to their spinal cords, but thanks to a spinal implant with electrical stimulation, they are all able to walk again. A team at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) developed this spinal implant and the researchers are hoping that they’ll be able to start some larger trials in both Europe and the US in approximately three years, which will ultimately lead to the technology becoming more widely available.
The injuries that occur in the spinal cord disrupt its communication with the nervous system, which then leads to the inability to perform neurological functions and to paralysis. Usually, the nerves that are located in the spinal cord are sending signals to the legs, from the brain. But when someone is paralyzed, the signal is too weak to be able to create a movement. So what this implant does is just boost the signals that activate all of the leg muscles.
The patients also received watches, so they could remotely control this stimulation. And according to one of the patients, named David Mzee, he can easily walk for over half a mile with either crutches or a walker for support.
Furthermore, the scientists that were developing this technology with the implant stated that it even seems to be able to help repair some of the damaged nerves. The nerve fibers started growing in the patients and they started to reconnect the brain to the spinal cord.
The medical team that is on the case is also trying to find ways to make the electrical stimulation a lot more comfortable for these patients so that they could have the watches activated all the time. Meanwhile, the research team is hoping that the unexpected bonus of having the nerve fibers growing back and reconnecting the brain to the spinal cord will enable other paralyzed people to be able to regain independent movement in the end.