Several people with spinal cord injuries that have undergone an experimental combination therapy are now standing, taking steps and walking without assistance. The research study into the new therapy was conducted by scientists at the University of Louisville, supported by a charitable foundation, the University of Louisville Hospital, and device maker Medtronic. The details of the study have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine under the title “Recovery of Over-Ground Walking after Chronic Motor Complete Spinal Cord Injury”.
The four patients involved in the study were all in their 20s and early 30s and were within a 2.5 to 3.3 year time frame of post-traumatic spinal injury. All were given about two months of intense physical therapy and training to see if that alone would restore function. After that period, each had an innovative spinal implant containing a total of 16 sensors surgically implanted in their lower spine region to stimulate electrical activity.
After the device was implanted, the study participants began a rigorous course of daily therapy to learn how to take steps again. By the end of the study, two of the four subjects could stand and take limited steps while the other two were able to walk independently. The medical device used by the researchers conducting the study was developed to manage chronic pain. The researchers would now like to see engineers design a device for this specific purpose.
A simultaneous case report published in Nature Medicine shows that researchers at the Mayo Clinic saw similar results with a patient with a complete spinal cord injury. After rehabilitation sessions, that patient was able to stand and walk with trainer assistance. In both studies, the patients needed the stimulator to be on to walk and steps could only be accomplished when the patients were actively trying to move their legs.