A man whose spinal cord was severed when he was involved in a motorbike accident 5 years ago has been able to begin walking again thanks to spinal implants in some pioneering research carried out in Switzerland.

Graphic

As the diagram above shows, a damaged spinal cord is unable to send messages from the brain to the legs, telling them to move.

The project has fitted spinal implant to three people, who were all able, immediately after surgery, to stand and step, with support.

The implant is controlled by a tablet computer, on which the user picks the movement pattern they want.  The tablet then sends instructions to a neurotransmitter implant in the abdomen, connected to electrodes in the spine that is able to send the required signals to the nerves, allowing movement.

One of the participants, Michael Roccati, now uses the implanted device for 1 to 2 hours a day, including for going for walks on his own. He can also stand up for 2 hours, cycle and even swim, by choosing different stimulation programs. He finds walking or standing helps relieve pain caused by sitting in a wheelchair all day.  he is also noticing improvements in his muscle function, even when the device is switched off.  This suggests that his spinal cord was not completely severed.

The team in charge of the study and pioneering surgery hope that this will be of help to other paralysed people who have at least 6 cm of healthy spinal cord below the injury site.

Until next time, keep calm and apply some Science!

Read more:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60258620

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2307365-spinal-implants-let-three-people-who-were-paralysed-walk-with-support/