New Technology Leads to Breakthroughs in Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis

New Technology Leads to Breakthroughs in Spinal Cord Injuries and ParalysisResearchers and scientists work hard every day to make life changing advances in the medical field. Through these advances, people become stronger, healthier, and better adapted to take on life’s challenges. Science makes the impossible possible. We once thought that those who suffered injuries to their spine that caused them to become paraplegic would never be able to walk again, but through innovation and dedication, there is now hope for people living with paralysis.

An article published in the peer-reviewed science and technology journal, Nature Medicine, discusses how neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and his team tested new technology on a group of 27 people who suffered from paralysis due to spinal cord injuries. The technology uses “the first implant specifically designed to control movement by mimicking the signals the lower body usually receives from the brain and upper spinal cord.”

In an injury where the spinal cord is severed, the electrical signals sent from the brain to the lower parts of the body below where the injury is located are disrupted; this is paralysis. There is a chain of neurons below the severed part of the spine, however that usually remains intact. Several research teams have discovered that restoring a moderate amount of movement to the paralyzed part of the body is achievable by taking chronic-pain blocking devices and applying an electrical current to the neuron:

Courtine’s group used magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography to map the size and layout of the neurons in the spinal cords of 27 people, and created a predictive model of the average spinal cord. This helped to show a surgeon where on the recipients’ bodies to place the implant’s electrodes. The researchers then fine-tuned the electrical current to each individual. A team including EPFL neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch implanted the device into three people whose spinal cords had been completely severed, causing paralysis in the lower body.

After this part in the study, the participants dictated what they wanted the lower half of their body to do by pressing buttons, which would control the pattern of electrical stimulation. For example, using a tablet, they could raise or lower a leg or turn their foot.

Reggie Edgerton, who is an exercise physiologist at the University of California, has been working on a less invasive approach that would help paralyzed people to walk again. This approach has the possibility of working very well in conjunction with Courtine’s devices. Egderton uses superficial electrodes that attach to the skin, which activate the neurons externally. The hope is that the stimulation will encourage the neurons to grow the proper connections, and eventually the body will perform the movement without the external stimulation from the electrodes. While this type of method can prove to be useful and successful in its own right, it can also serve as a stop-gap until the patient can be fitted with a more intense device like Courtine’s.

Why are SCIs so catastrophic?

Spinal cord injuries are always severe, and can lead to lifelong conditions that negatively impact your daily living. As the spinal cord is the main highway of the central nervous system, damage to this area can cause painful issues and discomfort for the rest of your body as well. About 18,000 Americans suffer some type of SCI each year, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. In this country, of all the people who are paralyzed, 40% are paraplegic, and 12% are tetraplegic. Tetraplegia (sometimes referred to as quadriplegia) “happens when a person experiences paralysis below the neck. The ability to move and function varies with this type of paralysis.”

While the inability to move as freely is the main concern for many of those who suffer from an SCI, there are other concerns as well. Paralysis itself can lead to a whole host of other complications such as an increased chance of infections, cardiac and respiratory distress, and gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, there are non-medical, everyday burdens that victims and their families face, including:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Current, ongoing, and future medical expenses
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of hobbies that used to bring you emotional and mental benefits.

If you suffered a spinal cord injury due to the actions or negligence of another person, you can seek compensation for your expenses, losses, and trauma through a personal injury lawsuit. A spinal cord injury means your entire life is about to change; you shouldn’t have to pay for it, as well.

We at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys are here to help you if you have suffered from an SCI. We have compassionate and experienced lawyers who will make sure that you are given all that you are due, and that you will not spend the rest of your life financially suffering from the action of another. Call 816-471-5111 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation at our office in Kansas City, MO. We also maintain offices in Lee’s Summit, Parkville, and St. Joseph, MO and in Olathe and Overland Park, KS.