For years now, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne have been working on a groundbreaking method to reverse paralysis in people with spinal cord injuries, by activating to inactive neurons with electrical stimulation.
The treatment has now taken a giant leap forward thanks to new discoveries published year Natural Medicine in which vertebral implants restored the ability to walk and move in three paralyzed patients — all within hours.
“All three patients were able to stand, walk, pedal, swim and control their body movements in just a day, after their implants were activated,” said Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. EPFL and senior author of the new study, said in the press release. release.
Previous versions of the transplant have successfully helped patients with some degree of paralysis. But the latest versions tested in this study use an AI-powered software that automatically applies stimuli in specific ways based on the patients’ own injuries and the type of physical activity they do. want to do.
That opens up a wide range of possible movements. Each of the three patients could not only walk around, but also get around a moving vehicle and swim in the water. All the patient has to do is select a desired activity from the tablet, and the intra-abdominal pacemaker relays a signal that lets the implant know which neurons in which regions of the spine it needs. stimulated so that the legs and body can move accordingly.
One of the patients, Michel Roccati, an Italian man who was paralyzed by a motorcycle accident, described using an implant with the aid of a walker to take his first steps after 4 years. .
“The first steps were incredible – a dream come true,” he said in a press release. “I can now go up and down stairs, and I hope to be able to walk a kilometer this spring.”
More trials are needed among a larger group of participants to fully demonstrate the implant’s effectiveness in reversing paralysis. Courtine and his colleagues will also need to improve the AI software so that it can also treat a wider range of injuries.
But so far, the rapid operation of the implants has changed the lives of three patients overnight, and has allowed rapid progress in regaining muscle mass and independent movement in just a few days. months. The ultimate aim is to use this technology to fully rehabilitate the patient so that the wounds are completely healed and no transplant is necessary. For now, things are moving in a very encouraging direction.