Man stands up, walks with assistance despite spine injury

May 27 2011
As far as medical advancements go, this spring has brought good news for individuals who are affected by paralysis and for whom spinal surgery cannot provide satisfactory results. 

Many of these patients face the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives and unable to enjoy many of the activities they did before their accident.

However, at a recent press conference in New York, researchers announced that 25-year-old Rob Summers of Oregon, who was paralyzed following a spinal cord injury five years ago, was able to regain much of his mobility thanks to an implant that is sending electrical messages directly to his spine.

According to CNN, a multidisciplinary team of scientists from across the U.S. collaborated to improve on an existing method of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. That method, called functional electronic stimulation (FES), relies on electrodes attached to the skin, but the new procedure calls for them to be implanted into the body.

"FES tries to bypass the circuitry by stimulating the muscles externally with electrodes," said Susan Harkema, MD, a professor at the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville, quoted by the news organization.

She added that the new method uses a constant signal, and that this approach "[allows] the spinal cord to control the muscles on its own."

While the research is ongoing, Summers has already been able to stand on his own for a short period of time and is beginning to move his toes, ankles, knees and hips when the electrical signal is being delivered.

Earlier this spring, many Americans were inspired by another medical innovation, when a paralyzed University of California at Berkeley graduate was able to walk on his own to get his diploma with the help of a robotic exoskeleton developed by researchers at his university.