The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Francisco; and the Pavlov Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia. The team was led by V. Reggie Edgerton, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and Yury Gerasimenko, Ph.D., director of the laboratory of movement physiology at Pavlov Institute and a researcher in UCLA’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology. The results are reported in the Journal of Neurotrauma with the ABSTRACT shown below.
Last year, Dr. Reggie Edgerton and colleagues, reported that four young men who had been paralyzed for years were able to move their legs, hips, ankles and toes following epidural electrical stimulation of their spinal cords. But that procedure required that the stimulator be surgically implanted and activated — and that device remains under the skin for years.
In the new transcutaneous research, five men were given one 45-minute training session per week for 18 weeks. For four weeks, the men were also given twice daily doses of buspirone, a drug often used to treat anxiety disorders. Researchers placed electrodes at strategic points on the skin, at the lower back and near the tailbone and then administered a unique pattern of electrical currents. The electrical charges caused no discomfort to the patients, who were lying down. The men in the newest study ranged in age from 19 to 56; their injuries were suffered during athletic activities or, in one case, in an auto accident. All have been completely paralyzed for at least two years. Their identities are not being released.
Edgerton estimates that cost to patients of the new approach could be one-tenth the cost of treatment using the “surgical style” epidural stimulator (which is also still experimental) — and, because no surgery is required, it would likely be more easily available to more patients. Edgerton and his research team also plan to study people who have severe, but not “complete” paralysis. “They’re likely to improve even more,” he said. The scientists can only work with a small number of patients, due to limited resources, but Edgerton is optimistic that the research can benefit many others.
Dr. Edgerton is working with NeuroRecovery Technologies to bring a transcutaneous device to market.
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
NIBIB FULL ARTICLE LINK – NIH STUDY
The present prognosis for the recovery of voluntary control of movement in patients diagnosed as motor complete is generally poor. Herein we introduce a novel and noninvasive stimulation strategy of painless transcutaneous electrical enabling motor control and a pharmacological enabling motor control strategy to neuromodulate the physiological state of the spinal cord. This neuromodulation enabled the spinal locomotor networks of individuals with motor complete paralysis for 2-6 years (AIS B) to be reengaged and trained. We showed that locomotor-like stepping could be induced without voluntary effort within a single test session using electrical stimulation and training. We also observed significant facilitation of voluntary influence on the stepping movements in the presence of stimulation over a four-week period in each subject. Using these strategies we transformed brain-spinal neuronal networks from a dormant to a functional state sufficiently to enable recovery of voluntary movement in 5/5 subjects. Pharmacological intervention combined with stimulation and training resulted in further improvement in voluntary motor control of stepping-like movements in all subjects. We also observed on-command selective activation of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles when attempting to plantarflex. At the end of 18 weeks of weekly interventions the mean changes in the amplitude of voluntarily controlled movement without stimulation was as high as occurred when combined with electrical stimulation. Additionally, spinally evoked motor potentials were readily modulated in the presence of voluntary effort, providing electrophysiological evidence of the re-establishment of functional connectivity among neural networks between the brain and the spinal cord.