Spinal Implants Help Paraplegic Man Stand and Move

[Photo: Rob Summers/UCLA]
Rob Summers is can finally stand on his own, after having the ability robbed from him by a vehicle that hit him 5 years ago, thanks to a new break through in spinal implants.

After the bold new surgical implants and intensive physical therapy, Summers can stand on his own for up to four minutes, and with a special harness--he can even take steps on a treadmill! Thanks to a joint study by scientists at the University of Louisville, UCLA and the California Institute of Technology, he can also voluntarily move his toes, ankles, knees, and hips on command.

Summer can move his feet again thanks to 16 electrodes implanted at his lower spine, which send electrical signals to the spinal cord, just as the brain would do to naturally to coax movement. After 7 months of intensive locomotor training, the former baseball player could use his legs again. During that time, scientists essentially reprograming Summer’s body by stimulating his spinal cord to move his legs while suspended over a treadmill.

“For someone who for four years was unable to even move a toe, to have the freedom and ability to stand on my own is the most amazing feeling,” Summers told UofL Today. “To be able to pick up my foot and step down again was unbelievable, but beyond all of that my sense of well-being has changed.”

Summers can't take steps beyond a laboratory just yet, but researches are looking to develop a portable stimulation unit. Researchers also hope that spinal stimulation could relive some secondary complications and restore a part of the victim’s dignity when it comes to things like bladder control.

There's a lot to be excited about in this field; researchers have also been working on exoskeletons to help paraplegics move on their own, such as the one developed by UC Berkeley engineers.

[University of Louisville and UCLA via Medical Xpress]

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