Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Paralyzed Patients Can Walk Again

A new treatment for chronic paraplegia has been developed at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland. The treatment involves using a wireless implant to precisely deliver electrical stimulation to the patient's spinal cord. Thanks to the treatment, in conjunction with new rehabilitation protocols using weight-assisted therapy, three paraplegics are now able to walk again with the aid of crutches or a walker. This success came about after only a few months of training. The patients are now able to control their previously paralyzed leg muscles without the presence of electrical stimulation.

From the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne article "This latest study, called STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground), establishes a new therapeutic framework to improve recovery from spinal cord injury. All patients involved in the study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralyzed for many years. Unlike the findings of two independent studies published recently in the United States on a similar concept, neurological function was shown to persist beyond training sessions even when the electrical stimulation was turned off. The STIMO study, led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland, is published in the 1 November 2018 issues of Nature and Nature Neuroscience."

“Our findings are based on a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms which we gained through years of research on animal models. We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord,” says EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine, “The exact timing and location of the electrical stimulation are crucial to a patient’s ability to produce an intended movement. It is also this spatiotemporal coincidence that triggers the growth of new nerve connections."

Read more about how paralyzed patients can walk again at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.