New Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant Helps the Paralyzed Walk Again

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Currents News Staff

In 2017, Michael Roccati was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. No one ever thought Michael would be able to do high-functioning movements.

“I tried to move my legs,” Michael said. “I try to change my position. This was impossible to do nothing. I fixed in my mind that it was just a situation, so I put on my mind, my behavior to try and solve this problem and I never stopped.”

Now he can walk about a mile without assistance thanks to this device. It sends electrical impulses to his spine. He can control it through his computer.

Scientists have been researching electrical stimulation as a treatment for paralysis for three decades. The newest stimulator, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, can reach more of the spinal cord and allow people to regain movement on the same day that they received the spinal implant.

“This technology is so precise that immediately after the surgery, the patient can walk and stand,” said Surgeon Jocelyne Bloch.

Within a week, three patients, men between the ages of 29 and 41 including Michael, were able to walk like this. Their case is detailed in a study published Monday in the journal, Nature Medicine.

With hours and hours of rehabilitation for five months, the patients were walking, riding bikes and even boxing.

The research is still early and they’ve tried it out on only three patients. They plan to test it out on 50 to 100 more patients to make sure it’s safe and to see if it works better in some people than in others. They hope that if the device performs well in these tests, that it will be widely used in the next three to four years.

But these initial steps are still monumental.

“Working is super important,” Michael said. “Just stand up. Can solve a lot of kind of problems in their normal life. Just to do a simple shower with the crutches. I can stand up and take a shower. With the walker. I am free.”

The spinal cord stimulator has been used for decades to treat chronic pain. Scientists modified the device to target nerves in the spine that control leg and trunk movements.