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Paraplegic Moves After Electrical Stimulation
Posted by Jocelyn Holt on May 21, 2011 - 1:46:08 PM

Robert Summers. Image from Facebook
CALIFORNIA—Researchers from UCLA, Caltech and the University of Louisville have developed electrical spinal cord stimulation, which increased the control of movement in test animals with spinal cord injury.

Robert Summers, a young man who became paraplegic after a motor vehicle accident in July 2006, volunteered for electrical stimulation treatment. He lost the ability to voluntarily move below the T1 segment of his spinal cord, although he partially retained sensation. 

Clinical therapy was conducted at the Frazier Rehab Institute in Kentucky. After a 26 month locomotor training process, scientists surgically placed electrodes along the L1 to S1 spinal cord segments on the dura layer. A total of 29 experiments were done with one patient in sessions lasting up to 250 minutes.

The dura is a layer is located inside the skull and vertebrae. Surrounding the central nervous system, its function is to form a protective barrier. The central nervous system allows for rapid responses to an organism’s environment through electrical and chemical signals that are sent via neurons, cells that are specialized for communicating with one another. 

During epidural stimulation, which was similar to electrical signals sent by the brain, the man was able to stand with assistance, as well as move his legs. Standing with balance assistance lasted between four and 25 minutes. The implantation of electrodes allowed the patient to have control of leg movement during stimulation. There was also improved bladder control, an unexpected but beneficial result.

Since individuals with paralysis have impaired to no sexual function, bladder control and sphincter function, this stimulation treatment could aid in restoring these functions. 

A total of five test subjects are planned for this electrode implant and stimulation treatment. This breakthrough will help scientists further develop methods to aid those with paralysis. It is anticipated that after further trials, electrical stimulation could become a clinical treatment.

The study entitled: “Effect of epidural stimulation of the lumbosacral spinal cord on voluntary movement, standing, and assisted stepping after motor complete paraplegia: a case study” was published online in The Lancet on May 20.

The scientists involved in this research include: Susan Harkema, Yury Gerasimenko, Jonathan Hodes, Joel Burdick, Claudia Angeli, Yangsheng Chen, Christie Ferreira, Andrea Willhite, Enrico Rejc, Robert G. Grossman and V. Reggie Edgerton. The lead researchers for this project are Susan Harkema at University of Louisville and Reggie Edderton at UCLA. Joel Burdick, a researcher at Caltech, developed neural electrodes for epidural stimulation.      

To watch an interview with V. Reggie Edgerton discussing this research, visit


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