Treatment for certain types of paralysis may soon be a reality. Up until recently, those who’ve lost functioning due to spinal injuries have had little hope in ever regaining it. New research has changed that. Even better, the treatment doesn’t require any surgery. In fact, it’s completely noninvasive.
The procedure, which developers at UCLA refer to as “transcutaneous enabling motor control,” uses skin electrodes to feed an electrical current over the damaged areas. This current stimulates the pathways that allow increased use of the affected nerves, allowing improved controlled movement of paralyzed limbs.
A study followed the progress of six people with spinal injuries. Half of them had spinal damage that affected their ability to use their arms and hands. Those three patients were unable even to move their fingers before treatment. The other three participants had levels of impairment that made it impossible to open a bottle or turn a doorknob.
After just the first session, which lasted about 90 minutes, all six participants were able to move their fingers. More incredibly, even the quadriplegics had measurable grip strength. After four sessions, some participants were turning doorknobs. At the end of the eight treatments, participants were opening bottles and sitting upright on their own, and some were even able to use cell phones. They also experienced increased bladder function, and blood pressure and heart functioning improved. Two returned for a 60-day, post-treatment follow-up visit, and were able to demonstrate lasting grip strength and motor skills.
While this is one small step toward a full cure, it’s a big one. Over 1.2 million Americans live with the effects of spinal cord injuries, hundreds of thousands of them left with limited or no use of their arms. Even small improvements in motor function can make the difference between being cared for full time and living with some independence. Hopefully, breakthroughs like this one will lead to even more promising new approaches.