A new study has found that an implant that electrically stimulates the spine could restore some mobility in people paralyzed by strokes. The device, which is surgically implanted into the spinal cord, sends electrical pulses to stimulate the nerves and enhance the activation of weakened muscles caused by stroke. Researchers tested the device on two patients who had upper-body paralysis following a stroke and found that both showed marked improvements in arm mobility. This promising technique may offer hope for restoring voluntary movement to those left with paralysis after a stroke.
Strokes are a leading cause of paralysis, affecting millions of people worldwide. While physical therapy can provide some improvements, no treatment exists to help these patients regain full control of their limbs - or their lives. The connection between the brain and the spinal cord is damaged during a stroke, preventing messages from reaching certain muscles. By aligning electrodes on the device with sensory nerves, researchers were able to amplify signals from the brain and stimulate sensory nerves that go on to activate muscles.
The two patients in the study showed improvement in mobility tasks such as drawing a spiral, opening a lock, and gripping and lifting objects while wearing the device. Treatment sessions were held 5 days a week over 29 days for 4 hours per day when continuous electrical stimulation was applied. The improvements persisted for up to four weeks after treatment stopped. Researchers are optimistic that even stronger results could be achieved if this treatment were paired with intensive physical training. While this new treatment might not work well for patients with severe mobility impairment, it could serve as a “new tool to try to maximize recovery” of stroke patients with more moderate paralysis in combination with other therapies. The minimally invasive surgery required for this procedure makes it widely accessible and routine, making it easy for insurance companies to cover it.
Overall, this study, published in Nature Medicine, provides hope for those living with paralysis following a stroke by offering them an opportunity to regain some control over their bodies through this innovative technique. With further research, this approach may become more widely available as an effective treatment option for these individuals.