A new study, which involves sending electrical stimulation to broken spinal cords, gives new hope to patients with spinal cord damage.
Over the next five years, neuroscientist Susan Harkema and her team applied electrical stimulation to three paralyzed men, and all four developed movement, and not just small movements.
In addition to wiggling their big toes, they can lifted and swung their legs, moved their ankles and sat-up without support. Two patients can even do sit-ups.
Their study, funded in part by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, is being published Tuesday in the journal Brain.
Over 1,700 paralyzed people have inquired about using this technology, which involves surgically implanting a simulator and giving it directions with an external remote control. The simulator creates a small, slightly visible bulge in the lower abdomen and is connected to wires that send electrical pulses to the spinal cord.
But patients shouldn't expect that the simulator will help them walk -- at least not now and maybe not ever. The simulator can only make one leg work at a time. Patients have to turn the simulator off and then back on again to make the other leg work or to make another set of muscles such as their torsos work.
Even though he can't walk, the simulator has had other benefits.