Electric Spinal Stimulation Gives Hope to Paralyzed Patients McConnell

Electric Spinal Stimulation Gives Hope to Paralyzed Patients

In both animal and human experiments, researchers are using electricity to restore function to paralyzed lower limbs.

In May 2011, it was reported that a neuroscientist in Kentucky had successfully used electric spinal stimulation in getting a paralyzed patient to stand. The patient had even gained some control of his bladder, bowel, and sexual functions, even when the electrodes were turned off. So the FDA then gave approval for Neuroscientist Susan Harkema to try the same technique in four other paralyzed patients.

The IEEE Spectrum profiles one of those patients, and further explains the procedures and the hope that electricity can restore function to paralyzed lower limbs.

The circuitry of the lower spinal cord is impressively sophisticated. Neuroscientists believe that the brain merely provides high-level commands for major functions, like walking. Then the dense neural bundles in the lower spinal cord take over the details of coordinating the muscles, allowing the brain to focus on other things. That division of labor is what lets you navigate a party and focus on the conversation rather than on your steps. After a spinal-cord injury, damage prevents the high-level signal from the brain from reaching the neurons below. Yet those neural bundles remain intact and are just waiting to receive a signal to start the muscles working. Stimulating the lower spinal cord with electrodes can awaken that circuitry and get it functioning, astonishingly, without instructions from the brain...(IEEE Spectrum)

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