May 21, 2019

A Potential Breakthrough for Paralyzed Patients

“David Mzee’s left leg has been paralyzed ever since he bounced off a trampoline and broke his neck in 2010. So when he woke up in the middle of the night last year and realized he was moving his left toe, he couldn’t believe it. “I didn’t know if it was real,” he says. He kept wiggling the toe, resting it, and then wiggling it again. “I think I was awake for an hour after that, just to see if it keeps on moving.”

It kept moving. Mzee’s toe wiggle was the result of months of physical training and a device that delivers pulses of electrical stimulation to Mzee’s spinal cord. Now, after participating in a study at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL), he and Gert-Jan Oskam, another man with partial lower body paralysis, can walk across the ground with crutches. A third participant, Sebastian Tobler, came to the study with an extreme case of lower body paralysis — and by the end, he could walk across the ground with a walker, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

For all of the study participants, stepping is still slow and difficult; they continue to use wheelchairs to get around (and, for Mzee, to play competitive wheelchair rugby.) But the surprising thing is that even with the spinal stimulation turned off, both Mzee and Oskam can now take a handful of steps with crutches, and move joints that they couldn’t move before — like Mzee’s left toe. It shows that with electrical stimulation and training, the spinal cord can regain control over paralyzed muscles even years after an injury.

The study, led by Grégoire Courtine, an associate professor at EPFL, is the third small study in just over a month to show similar results. And it raises the question of whether it’s time for these spinal stimulation devices to move beyond the lab and into the clinic. “If we rush too fast, there’s going to be mistakes and that could set back everything,” says Reggie Edgerton, a professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Edgerton, who was a co-author on one of the three recent studies, encourages caution, tempered by the urgency felt by many in the medical community: “At the same time I know that patients are waiting, and keep waiting.””

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."

"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."

"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."

"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"

"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."

"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."

"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."

"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"

"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."

"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."

"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."

"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."