The latest study at the intersection of technology and neuroscience is the STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground) study, which has established the newest rehabilitation protocols consisting of neurotechnological therapeutic approach to improve recoveries from spinal cord injuries. The study was published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience and was based in Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland.
“STIMO study participant, David Mzee, is now able to take a few steps of his own. He was totally paraplegic after a sports accident.” ~ ScienceDaily
Image Credit: EPFL / Jean-Baptiste Mignardot
The STIMO study approach was successful in treating three paraplegics who sustained cervical spinal cord injuries many years ago. "The human nervous system responded even more profoundly to the treatment than we expected,” explains EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine. The former paraplegics were now able to walk with the aid of crutches or a walker from targeted electrical stimulation treatments on the lumbar spinal cord and weight-assisted therapy.
"Our findings are based on a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms which we gained through years of research on animal models. We were thus able to mimic in real time how the brain naturally activates the spinal cord," says Courtine.
Additionally, all the previously paralyzed patients that were involved in the STIMO study recovered voluntary control of their leg muscles. "All the patients could walk using body weight support within one week. I knew immediately that we were on the right path," says Jocelyne Bloch, a CHUV neurosurgeon who was heavily involved in the surgical implantations of the study.
Based on this targeted neurotechnology, the new rehabilitation protocols will lead to improved neurological function by allowing the participants to actively train natural overground walking in comparison to passive training seen in exoskeleton-assisted stepping. "We are building next-generation neurotechnology that will also be tested very early post-injury, when the potential for recovery is high and the neuromuscular system has not yet undergone the atrophy that follows chronic paralysis. Our goal is to develop a widely accessible treatment," adds Courtine.
The results of the study indicated that neurological function was shown to persist beyond electrical stimulation sessions. Essentially, the brain is healing itself.
"The exact timing and location of the electrical stimulation are crucial to a patient's ability to produce an intended movement. It is also this spatiotemporal coincidence that triggers the growth of new nerve connections," says Courtine.
Source: Science Daily