The dictionary definition of paralysis is “a loss or impairment of voluntary movement in a body part, caused by injury or disease of the nerves, brain, or spinal cord.” According to Medical News Today a new implant has created hope for people with paralysis.
A new study that was published in the journal Brain was conducted on four men who had suffered paralysis as a result of motor vehicle accidents. Researchers at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and the University of California-Los Angeles, both in the US, and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology in St. Petersburg, Russia reported that each of the men received implants that sent to their lower spinal cords an electrical stimulation that simulated the kind of signals that the brain sends to move lower extremities. Each of the men had been given no hope of recovery.
The results were remarkable. The men were able to move their legs immediately after getting the implants. Even more remarkable was the fact that with physical therapy, their ability to move their legs, even to stand for short period of times. They also reported other benefits, including improved blood flow, larger muscle mass, and a general sense of well-being.
That last should not be a surprise. Fox News adds that the men were able to recover voluntary bladder, bowl, and sexual function. The loss of these due to paralysis is sometimes thought to be even more debilitating from the standpoint of human dignity and happiness than the lack of mobility.
Roughly six million Americans suffer from paralysis, including a million and a half from spinal cord injuries. According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the financial costs of living with paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries can be in the hundreds thousands of dollars. An effective treatment for SCI paralysis could save the United States $400 billion in direct and indirect costs.
It is uncertain when or even if these electrostimulation implants will show up in a clinical setting. Clearly years of more human trials will be necessary before that occurs. But researchers are optimistic that the implants will become part of a “cocktail” of treatments that will make the paralyzed whole again.