Breakthrough in nerve stimulation: scientists have learned how to treat complete paralysis – people walk again
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During the study, scientists managed to get 9 people with chronic spinal injuries on their feet.
People with spinal cord injuries find themselves confined to a wheelchair or bed, depending on the degree of paralysis. In a new study, scientists appear to have found a way to restore the ability to walk in paralyzed people, writes Science Alert.
Neuroscientist Claudia Kate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and colleagues have tested a new technology that can reverse paralysis. Scientists believe that epidural electrical stimulation could be a breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis. The technology has already been tested on animals and 9 people.
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The neuroscientists used mice as the starting point of their research. With the help of animals, they identified the exact groups of nerves that needed to be stimulated, and then tested the new technology on volunteers with severe or complete paralysis.
The nerve cells that are responsible for the ability to walk are located in the region of the spinal cord located in the lower back. Spinal cord injuries can interrupt the chain of signals from the brain – as a result, a person will not be able to walk, even if the lumbar neurons are intact. As a result, the nerve cells responsible for walking do not receive the necessary signals and subsequently simply cease to function, which can lead to irreversible paralysis.
In the study, scientists surgically implanted a neurotransmitter and then stimulated the spinal cord with it. In total, the study lasted 5 months – all this time the volunteers underwent stimulation and intensive neurorehabilitation, a robotic support system helped them move in one direction or another.
The results of the study were amazing. After an intensive course of stimulation and rehabilitation, 9 out of 9 people were able to walk with the help of a walker.
Curiously, while walking in recovered patients, there was a decrease in the activity of neurons in the lumbar region. The researchers hypothesize that after stimulation, activity narrows down to a specific subset of neurons that are necessary for the ability to walk on their feet.
Next, the scientists simulated the entire experiment in mice and were able to detect a subset of previously unknown neurons called SCVsx2::Hoxa10 . The researchers suggest that these cells are not needed for a healthy person to walk, but are necessary for the recovery of the spine after injury – the destruction of this subset of neurons in mice did not allow them to recover after stimulation.
According to Katya, these neurons are located in this way , which are able to convert information from the brainstem into executive commands, and then send them to the neurons responsible for walking. The researchers hope that the results of their study will further help create treatment options for people with various spinal cord injuries.