Just as we are now able to treat cold, fever and other illnesses, there may come a time in the future when modern medicine would make it possible to make paralysis a curable and temporary condition.
The idea of a world where paralyzed patients can walk and move again voluntarily becomes brighter with the results of a new experiment that allowed researchers to successfully restore movement in paralyzed men.
A team of researchers from the University of Louisville, University of California-Los Angeles and Pavlov Institute of Physiology reported on Tuesday that they have restored some voluntary movements to four men who have been paralyzed from their chest down for more than two years after they implanted an electrical device in their spines.
The patients were able to move their legs and feet voluntarily again albeit they were not able to walk. Still, the result of the experiment was considered as "staggering" as the patients have already been told by their doctors that they would never be able to move their legs again. The patients' movements are not so simple either as they can wiggle their big toes, move their ankles, swing their legs and even sit up without support.
The patients also reported of experiencing other benefits after they have been implanted with the electric stimulator. One patient said that after trying the device, she experienced improved bowel, bladder and sexual functions. Tests also showed that the stimulator improved the heart and respiratory functions of the four patients in general.
The study, which was published in the Journal Brain Tuesday, was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a charitable organization that funds research on spinal cord injury.
Study researcher Susan Harkema, director of the Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network, said the objective of the study was actually to learn more about nerve pathways and not to make the patients move. She and her colleagues are in fact baffled as to why electrical stimulation to the spinal cord has enabled the patients to voluntarily move as they did not touch the patients' brains.
"We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis, even years after injury," Harkema said. "The belief that no recovery is possible and complete paralysis is permanent has been challenged."