The spinal nerves in the section of the spinal cord running through our lower backs send electrical signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body.
Any serious spinal cord injury can interrupt the chain of signals reaching the nerves from the brain. Unable to receive commands, it may cause paralysis of the legs even when the spinal neurons are still intact.
Thanks to cutting-edge technology, researchers from the Swiss research group NeuroRestore were able to identify the exact nerve groups responsible for the paralysis of the legs.
Researchers tested epidural electrical stimulation technology in nine individuals with their spinal cords completely severed. The surgically implanted neurotransmitter stimulated the spinal cord of the patients. This carefully targeted electrical stimulation helped restore motor function in the patients.
The patients went through five months of electric stimulation and intense physical therapy. Amazingly, all the patients were then able to take steps with the aid of a walker.
This was the first time when someone completely severed spinal cord was able to walk freely
This breakthrough could lead to more treatment options to help paralyzed people to walk again. Grégoire Courtine, who led the team that developed the technology at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), said “This is not a cure for spinal cord injury. But it is a critical step to improve people’s quality of life,”
He added “We are going to empower people. We are going to give them the ability to stand, to take some steps. It is not enough, but it is a significant improvement.”