New device restores partial movement to four paralyzed men

Paralysis may not last forever anymore. In an experiment hailed as “staggering,” a team of researchers at the University of Louisville and the University of California-Los Angeles restored some voluntary movement to four men who were told they would never move their legs again. The finding, published online today by the journal Brain, upends understanding of the spinal cord and is likely to transform the lives of more than 1.2 million Americans who lack control over their lower limbs.

Four men who suffered complete spinal cord injuries and were unable to move from the waist down have just moved voluntarily for the first time since their accidents, thanks to a new device that mimics the signals the brain normally sends throughout the body. Though the patients aren’t up and walking, they are able to voluntarily move their legs, hips, and toes thanks to the device, which was implanted on each patient’s spinal cord and constantly sends an electrical current through the spine. Each patient was paralyzed in car or motorcycle accidents—two of them had no sensation beneath the waist. It’s not the first time the electrode device has worked—in a 2011 article in the Lancet,researcher Susan Howley wrote about the success of the device in one patient, but Howley has now proved that the process is replicable and might eventually allow people who were once fully paralyzed to live relatively normal lives. 

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