In the past ten years, advancements have been made toward improving the lives of people with disabilities. The scientific community has been on the forefront of this in research and experimentation with an ultimate goal in mind: getting patients with disabilities walking again. Much research is being done to improve the lives of people with spinal cord injuries. When there is a severe injury to the spinal cord, the chain of communication between the lower extremities and the brain can be cut off, which can leave someone paralyzed. In the last year, two significant advancements have been made to give people with spinal cord injuries the hope of being able to walk again. While new optimism has been sparked with recent scientific breakthroughs, it’s important analyze the information that is out there and understand how scientists and researchers are working with these issues.
A recent article from Gizmodo discusses a new technology from Case Western Reserve University which allows scientists to “hack” into the nervous system. Matthew Shiefer, a neural engineer, has been developing this technology for several years and has recently begun to see some success in clinical trials. His device, a flat interface nerve electrode (FINE), is being used to send electrical pulses to nerves thereby stimulating the muscle. The goal in this is to revive paralyzed limbs and allow the electrical current to flow from the brain to nerves in the legs. The FINE simulates messages the brain would be sending if communication was not blocked due to spinal cord injury. The device flattens nerve fibers allowing them to be more receptive to the electrical current.
Another recent experiment finds that rats with completely severed spinal cords can gain the ability to walk again through trials. Researchers are using a combination of drug therapy, electrical stimulation and exercise training to enable these rats with spinal cord injuries to support their body weight. In a story originally published in Nature Neuroscience, it has been found that using these methods the rats are increasing in mobility, some even walking quickly on a treadmill. In the past, embryonic stem cells have been used to repair damaged nerves in the spine. Like the study from Case Western Reserve University, these scientists find that directly stimulating the nerves below the level of injury has a more direct result. Reggie Edgerton, a professor of neurobiology and physiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles informs that this is a good starting point to the ability to increase the mobility of humans with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
Edgerton stated that when someone suffers an injury which cuts off communication between the lower extremities and the brain, there is still a great deal of circuitry going on in the nerves. By tapping into this through drug therapy and electrical stimulation, it is possible to simulate the conversation that would occur between the brain and the nerves. The rats were able to carry their own weight at walking, and even running pace, on a treadmill. There were virtually no differences between their gait and that of a healthy rat. This does not allow a way to control movement with one’s mind. Instead the person would rely on a neuroprosthetic device to walk again. However, Edgerton is hopeful that with the aid of a walker, people with injuries would be able to maintain their balance and execute some effective stepping. It is scientific advancements like this which would allow for improvement in an individual’s life and could make a big difference.
While the search for cures and treatments for the wide range of diseases, genetic disorders, and injuries that result in a person having a limited or no mobility continues, M.C. Mobility continues to offer equipment and services that can get customers with mobility impairments as close to normal daily life as possible. Whether it’s wheelchair vans to get to and from work or Bruno lifts installations to access different parts of the home, M.C. Mobility Systems stays on the cutting edge of mobility equipment technology. Do you know of any other scientific studies going on that offer hope to those struggling with mobility? If so, please let us know in our comment section below.
Photo courtesy of Gizmodo.com. Matthew Shiefer, via Case Western University