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Implant Restores Paralyzed Man's Leg Movement

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the we-have-the-technology dept.

Biotech 65

cylonlover writes "In a move that gives cautious hope to the millions of people suffering some form of paralysis, a team of researchers from UCLA, Caltech and the University of Louisville has given a man rendered paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run accident in 2006 the ability to stand and take his first tentative steps in four years. The team used a stimulating electrode array implanted into the man's body to provide continual direct electrical stimulation to the lower part of the spinal cord that controls movement of the hips, knees, ankles and toes, to mimic the signals the brain usually sends to initiate movement (abstract)."

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65 comments

All the best (3)

loonyjuice (1744114) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191506)

A small step for man, a great leap for mankind

Re:All the best (3, Interesting)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191636)

Even if it doesn't restore full mobility, I think this is a great advancement that allows a paralyzed patient to stave off or to recover from the muscle atrophy or blood clots caused by lack of motion that occurs after the accident.

Re:All the best (1)

daedae (1089329) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191784)

It wasn't clear to me from the article how much control he actually has over the mobility. It says instead of hooking the brain back up to the legs, they're just stimulating the nerves in that area to wake the legs back up, and then the legs sort of make decisions on their own in terms of standing or maybe walking to stay balanced on a moving treadmill.

So it would definitely be useful for keeping paralyzed legs fit, but I wonder what the equivalent would be for stimulating a paralyzed arm?

Re:All the best (1)

Phoshi (1857806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191872)

Legs can't 'make decisions on their own', especially not something as complex as balance, which requires information from the inner ear. It seems likely to me that this doesn't interface with the brain simply because that's also a very complex, mostly theoretical field. However, that this can be done at all gives a lot of hope for next decade's paralyzed people regaining some level of conscious movement.

Re:All the best (1)

daedae (1089329) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191962)

The stimulation therefore doesn't induce movement, but taps into a network of spinal cord nerves that are capable of initiating movement on their own without the help of the brain, which then work together with cues from the legs to direct muscle movement.

Okay, so saying the legs make decisions on their own was somewhat of an oversimplification, but my point that the brain is not involved and so it's not clear how much practical control he has over mobility or what the equivalent would be for other limbs remains.

Re:All the best (2)

the biologist (1659443) | more than 3 years ago | (#36194262)

Another aspect of this technique is that some signals from the brain may be getting through, but they're not strong enough to get the leg muscles to contract properly. In this scenario, the device would be acting as an amplifier. Giving the leg muscles enough signal strength to contract, but introducing noise to the signal recieved from the brain.

Re:All the best (1)

Phoshi (1857806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195514)

Well, even if there's no practical usage yet, that it works at all would surely be a great step towards building something that does work? Rome wasn't built in a day, etc.

Re:All the best (3, Informative)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#36194796)

Actually, that's wrong. At least in cats. As proof they kept a cat's body alive, removed its brain, and put it on a treadmill. The cat was held up, but as the legs felt pressure on them, they started to run by themselves. Rather well, too, matching speed with the treadmill. The muscles and spinal cord basically play a huge role in balance and walking..it isn't 100% brain controlled.

Re:All the best (4, Informative)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192052)

I heard an article about this on NPR this morning. He apparently has a fair amount of control and even feeling while the power is turned on. He talked about getting a shot in his lower back while the systems was powered up and being able to feel the pain, the pressure of the insertion, everything you'd expect a normal person to be able to feel. He joked about it being both bad and good, but you could tell he was really pleased.

The interesting thing is that they aren't, from what I understand, trying to bypass the damaged nerves, rather they're applying a continuous current to them, which seems to boost the natural ability of the nerves to receive signals. For lack of a better description (and assuming I understand what's going on, which is assuming a lot, even the doctors don't seem too clear on the details) the applied current allows the nerve signals to "jump" the cut in his nervous system.

Also for reasons I don't understand, they only use the system 2 hours or so a day, so for the majority of the time he's a normal paraplegic. That may explain why it's taking him so long to relearn things like walking and standing, though the article indicates that only gross movements may ever be possible so it could be that the signals just aren't strong enough still for fine motor control.

Re:All the best (2)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192556)

The interesting thing is that they aren't, from what I understand, trying to bypass the damaged nerves, rather they're applying a continuous current to them, which seems to boost the natural ability of the nerves to receive signals. For lack of a better description (and assuming I understand what's going on, which is assuming a lot, even the doctors don't seem too clear on the details) the applied current allows the nerve signals to "jump" the cut in his nervous system. Also for reasons I don't understand, they only use the system 2 hours or so a day

My guess would be that since it sounds like they're using a type of amplifier and that the system is so new they don't what to further injure this person's nervous system by having too much voltage too long. By the sounds of it this person's set of issues is rare, so it's doubly important they do this 'velvet glove' style.

As well, I would like to parrot the 'keep up the good work'. I have a cousin who was in gymnastics when he was younger then in his 20s had a serious traffic accident and left him paralysed from the chest down. It'd be cool to see him walk again.

Re:All the best (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195592)

Sounds a bit like quantum tunneling current, which can be increased by reducing the potential barrier across the gap with the application of an electrical potential difference across the gap. Don't know where this system falls on a microscopic/quantum-macroscopic/classical continuum.

Re:All the best (1)

BranMan (29917) | more than 3 years ago | (#36221436)

But I'm sure that if we can just channel this through the main deflector array, and ramp up the power to emit a strong enough tachyon pulse, we can make the effect permanent.

It will lead to much more than just that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195370)

Read Dr. Becker's "The Body Electric" for more information on why this works.

Many bodily processes are regulated by DC electrical potentials, including growth and regeneration.
The body is mainly negatively charged in the middle section, and becomes more and more positive as it extends outward towards the limbs.

Dr. Becker was largely ignored for his amazing research which went against the establishment at the time.
Let's just hope this research in Californian universities isn't ignored as well.
Money still, unfortunately, rules the world.

Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (-1)

Dr.Bob,DC (2076168) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191520)


While I'm happy that this man is able to regain movement in his leg after such a dreadful accident, this is due to invasive surgery and drugs. He'll be hooked on drugs and connected to machines for life.

If he were to have had Chripractic treatment since his horrific accident in 2006 I would wager that he would have had similar mobility as early as 2008. More, by now (early-mid 2011), he would likely be walking with some assistance. Not quite on the dance floor, but able to move about on his own legs.

Serious spinal injury causes severe, localized subluxations. Left on their own, they will hinder the nerve impulses to the extremeties. Proper treatment from a Chiropractor will break up the subluxations and help the nervous system heal itself. If he were to take all-natural Vitamin D supplements and switch to a high protein vegan diet, his progression would be even faster.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy the man can twitch his toes, but with *proper* care he could have achieved this milestone years ago.

Take care!
Bob
'

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191578)

That's all well and good, except that chiropractic is widely considered to be bunk science. Unless you can cite a reference to a peer-reviewed study in a medical journal that shows chiropractic was used to restore movement to a paralyzed person, I will maintain this belief...

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191632)

Just look at 'Dr.Bob,DC's other comments - he's either a troll or delusional.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192260)

Or a paid shill.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192306)

Wow.

He reminds me of the Scientologists.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

bipedalhominid (1828798) | more than 3 years ago | (#36193902)

Yeah, strange postings from this one we have. I just used up my last mod point earlier, damn.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191670)

Serious spinal injury causes severe, localized subluxations. Left on their own, they will hinder the nerve impulses to the extremeties. Proper treatment from a Chiropractor will break up the subluxations and help the nervous system heal itself. If he were to take all-natural Vitamin D supplements and switch to a high protein vegan diet, his progression would be even faster.

A relative of mine has a serious spinal injury and all I have to say to you is fuck you.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (2)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192168)

Yeah seriously.

I've had back problems from time to time, mostly related to overstressed muscles. I've gone to a chiropractor for it, had therapeutic massage and spinal adjustments done, and it did a lot of good. Eliminated for weeks at a time a problem that a normal doctor would have hit with muscle relaxants and painkillers.

BUT, the first thing my chiropractor did was take X-rays, both to see the underlying problem and guide the course of treatment. And he was willing to point out that NO serious spinal injury, nothing anywhere near the level of possibly damaging the spinal cord, should be hit with chiropractic treatment. For those, they have this thing called "Traction." He's actually sent patients over to a real hospital when they showed up asking for chiropractic treatment and his X-rays showed they had a major, serious, surgery-level problem.

The problem with chiropractic medicine is that for every good chiropractor out there who treats it as medicine, you have three lying assholes who go on and on about "energy" and "life flow" and all the other sort of new-agey bunk that gives the field a bad name.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (5, Interesting)

Ironhandx (1762146) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191672)

The man has a spinal cord injury. Not a spinal COLUMN injury(though he had that too). Spinal cords do not magically heal no matter what you do to them.

I really, really wish that you nutjobs would shut the hell up. Chiropractors are a godsend, for some injuries. I blew out a portion of my disc between t11 and t12 years ago. It caused all sorts of havoc and got to the point where I could very nearly no longer walk. Chiropractic care and a good regimen of exercises turned this around completely The pain had caused muscles to tense and throw all sorts of things out of place. The chiropractor got everything back into shape, and the back pain subsided a fair bit.

Heres the news flash: My disc is still blown. It did not magically heal, nor will it. An adjustment may allow space for some extra tissue to grow make the injury less painful, but thats about it.

The worst part is your post has a hint of truth, but heaped on it is a mountain of crackpot bullshit. You're giving chiropractors everywhere a bad name, and on behalf of those of us who know how much good they CAN do I say: Please, go crawl under a rock somewhere and stay there. Its people like you that mean a lot of folks can't get their chiropractic physiotherapy covered when it could potentially be the only thing that will get them real relief.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#36194578)

Chiropractors are voodoo doctor wannabes, just like acupuncturists. They're glorified knuckle crackers.

The entire basis of chiropracty is essentially that any sort of illness is a result of something wrong with the nerves, ultimately leading to somewhere in the spine. Tinker with the spine, problem solved!

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

Suddenly_Dead (656421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195230)

The worst part is your post has a hint of truth, but heaped on it is a mountain of crackpot bullshit. You're giving chiropractors everywhere a bad name, and on behalf of those of us who know how much good they CAN do I say: Please, go crawl under a rock somewhere and stay there. Its people like you that mean a lot of folks can't get their chiropractic physiotherapy covered when it could potentially be the only thing that will get them real relief.

That "subluxations" cause every disease under the sun and can be cured by chiropractic is taught in most or all chiropractic schools, and is to them a normal belief.

There have been studies comparing registered massage therapists to chiropractors for back injury recovery. There was no appreciable difference in effect. Only one of them considers themselves a "doctor" though.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

Ironhandx (1762146) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196412)

No, thats a common misconception from what is for some reason a very very vocal minority. Though, I can only speak for canadian chiropractics on that score really.

Chiropractors here tend to understand that a massage therapist does do a lot of what they do. What they do however is far more targeted and they are trained to help restore function. Going to a chiropractor here will probably hurt like fucking hell the first few times at the very least, and won't improve much after that, however it will help a lot with certain types of injuries.

Soft tissue damage injuries that have nearly all the way healed but need some coaxing or some bone realignment are the ones that they're particularly good with.

The problem is that sometimes, some symptoms can be caused by a nerve that is pinching somewhere that a bone is out of line or a massive tensing of muscles caused by pain that you can't even really feel anymore could be causing something. In my case I also had tension headaches, and as a result of the back adjustments and overall mobility improvement the muscles in the back of my neck relaxed more and they've now gone away for the most part. Some of the reason they are there is other stress, but some of it was the back pain and now there is improvement.

The stuff isn't nearly a cure-all, but sometimes it causes what could be seemingly random symptoms to improve. The main thing to remember is that stress can cause all sorts of wierd symptoms and chronic pain causes severe amounts of stress. Its as simple as that. Thats why occaisionally they get the miracle case where a whole boatload of things just sort of disappeared. However 99% of the time that doesn't happen.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191696)

That's simply not fair to say without knowing more about his case. In effect, this is an application of the Jr.High School experiment of connecting a battery to a frog's leg to watch it jump. Without knowing the extent of the damage (which this article could never detail) it is literally irresponsible to assert a claim that alternative treatment could do a better job.

I believe chiropractic treatment has its purposes and ranks right up there with good nutrition and exercise as natural means of treating and maintaining health issues. But there are limits to the healing capacity of the body and there are many forms of "damage" where some are eligible for typical healing and others are simply not. (A cut nerve might heal, but a segment of nervous tissue might never be able to regrow the original connections over a distance where two healthy points are too far from one another.)

If you are a doctor, be more responsible before rendering opinions. You really must have all of the facts and first-hand knowledge of the case before making such assertions.

Veganism. (0)

sidragon.net (1238654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191752)

Numerous peer-reviewed studies and clinical trials have found plant-based diets have many benefits, including (but not limited to) reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. I am vegan myself, and I advocate strongly for the diet. (Additionally, I personally consider it essential in achieving my peak athletic fitness.) If you wish to promote this diet and lifestyle, please do not make outlandish claims about what it can do. There is no evidence that plant-based diets will treat nervous or skeletal-muscle system damage. It is no silver bullet, and, if you recast veganism as such, you will hurt the cause.

Re:Veganism. (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192506)

There was a story not too long ago about a couple of vegans who let their newborn die due to malnutrition. IIRC, she was nursing and the baby could not receive nutrients that the mother did not eat. Veganism is not a healthy diet.

Re:Veganism. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36193118)

It can be, it is just really difficult to do. Eating only meat would be no better. I am not a vegan or vegetarian, nor have ever been one intentionally nor longer than 48 hours.

Difficult? How? (1)

sidragon.net (1238654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36291902)

Please explain how proper vegan diets are difficult.

Re:Veganism. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194250)

There was a story not too long ago about a couple of vegans who let their newborn die due to malnutrition. IIRC, she was nursing and the baby could not receive nutrients that the mother did not eat. Veganism is not a healthy diet.

Perhaps that one mother's diet was unhealthy, but that says nothing about the vegan diet in general. There are vegan parents having babies all over the world, and have been doing so for a long, long time. Your one anecdote is meaningless.

Evidence, please. (1)

sidragon.net (1238654) | more than 3 years ago | (#36291900)

I know about some stories, such as one where the parents fed their child soy milk and apple juice. That is obviously incompletely. So, please cite your sources. Tell us which story, tell us what the mother was eating, and then tell us what nutrients the nursing child could not get from the breast milk. Meanwhile, please prove that your isolated case applies generally to everyone eating plant-based diets.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191766)

Don't forget about sexual healing, Bob. He'd get better at least 25% faster if he had a cock driven up his anal column in conjunction with your program.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191884)

How has this idiot not been modded into oblivion yet? Look at his other posts; he is rivaling Michael Kristopeit for most obnoxious slashdotter.

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191950)

I always cringe when reading a hostile post ended with "don't get me wrong...." It's like slapping somebody in the face and then saying "sorry, but you deserved it!"

Imagine if Hitler talked that way...

"The exposure of sick, weak, deformed children, in short their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject, and indeed at any price, and yet takes the life of a hundred thousand healthy children in consequence of birth control or through abortions, in order subsequently to breed a race of degenerates burdened with illnesses."

(Revised addendum:)

"Don't get me wrong, I feel for those inferior children, but their deaths truly benefit us all!"

Re:Happy for the man, yet disappointed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194104)

Sure, he should just come to a shyster like you for some "spinal adjustment." Yeah, that will fix it.

C'mon, scientists... (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191542)

This is supposed to be the future. It's cool that he can walk and all; but where is the iphone app that will allow me to control his legs over the internet?

Re:C'mon, scientists... (1)

genghisjahn (1344927) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191714)

You like looking at car wrecks don't you?

Re:C'mon, scientists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191862)

http://www.foddy.net/Athletics.html

Thats awesome! (2)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191554)

Keep it up!

UCLA.
Caltech.
University of Louisiana.

Reports of American research demise seem to be premature (looking at the names the team looks multinational - hard to tell just by a name these days).

Re:Thats awesome! (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192762)

If you haven't seen it before, you should add Futurity [futurity.org] to your web reading rotation. It is a website dedicated to news stories about American university research, and (no surprise) headlines today with this mobility story.

Re:Thats awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194030)

University of Louisville not Louisiana

Maybe now. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191644)

We can have another "Artie Can Walk" dream sequence on Glee!

Let me be the first to say (1)

Scottingham (2036128) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191794)

HOLY SHIT!

uninvasive stem cell tx restores organs limbs life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191796)

while the unchosen continue to be experimented upon. you call this 'weather'?

Key points for me (4, Interesting)

HBI (604924) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191804)

1) The spinal cord is not simply a transmission mechanism. Primarily, it controls the operation of the lower extremities.

2) The spinal cord requires a minimal 'data feed' to operate - over the spinal cord itself.

To me, this explains much about paralysis and ultimately, how to conquer it. It is interesting that I had never had the idea of the spinal cord being just the 'copper' linking your extremities to your brain corrected at any point in the past.

I also know someone with spina bifida who would benefit from this, if it were possible. Of course, reading about the physical condition and special circumstances of the research volunteer (having feeling below the injury) suggests that this may not be possible.

Re:Key points for me (1)

Metabolife (961249) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192372)

It's a part of your brain. Like all nerves, your brain runs throughout your entire body. You cut off a piece of your brain, it still functions, but without the connections it had in the past.

Re:Key points for me (3, Interesting)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192468)

Right. But there's nothing to say that a properly designed shunt couldn't fix or bridge the gap (or we re-wire directly form the break to the muscles themselves). Most of what happens in your body (legs as an example) is controlled by a few specific groups of muscles, but it's not like we need to reconnect a thousand synthetic nerves to muscles and so on. It's only a few dozen. Once they are reconnected, recovery should be extremely quick.

In a decade, spinal injuries will be a problem and no longer a disaster.

Re:Key points for me (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36193442)

Erm, there will be several thousand axons bundled up in each of those 'only a few dozen' nerves that you reckon would be a doddle to reconnect. And getting the -motor neurones wired up is only part of achieving a full recovery - you need the afferents from proprioceptors for any kind of coordinated movement, correct alpha-gamma coactivation for proper functioning of muscle spindles, etc. Its not such a simple rewiring job as it seems...

Re:Key points for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192618)

Stop tooting your own horn. You're not that good. It's not interesting you had tha

Re:Key points for me (2)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | more than 3 years ago | (#36193378)

I also know someone with spina bifida who would benefit from this, if it were possible. Of course, reading about the physical condition and special circumstances of the research volunteer (having feeling below the injury) suggests that this may not be possible.

I'm not particularly optimistic either, spina bifida can come with very heavy damage. However, I read more and more about repairs on the nerve system, artificial components and improvements in the signal reception. Maybe it can be fixed in a decade or two.

Nice workaround (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191922)

Nice way to work around the problem of the nerves not delivering the message -- add your own communication system. It would be nice if someone figures out how to repair broken links to the spinal cord, but using a different control and communication method is a good way to get some use of that otherwise unused muscle.

Re:Nice workaround (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192152)

If you can capture the signal coming from the brain, and reproduce a different signal to do what it is the person wants to do, it would just take some mapping file to remap the damaged nerves to match what the brain is expecting the legs to do...

Re:Nice workaround (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36193016)

yeah this will be flamed.

quote; "signal coming from the brain, and reproduce a different signal to do what it is the person wants to do"

I just wanna find a way to energise this at my will to my COCK!

beer, red wine is good :)

Just imagine.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36191938)

Perhaps the spinal cord can be trained to let me Geddan in real time!

Chicken with it's head cut off? (0)

Awkward Engineer (2178204) | more than 3 years ago | (#36191942)

The articles says that the spine itself has the neural circuitry to help with balance. That the brain isn't completely necessary. That's f-ing scary. www.awkwardengineer.com [awkwardengineer.com]

zombies (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192644)

You mean it's not enough to shot zombies in the head?

Doesn't this just ruin the Avatar movie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192024)

Enough interstellar travel to transport marines, and the hero is wheelchair bound. *sigh*

Re:Doesn't this just ruin the Avatar movie (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#36192380)

Actually the movie repeatedly states that the hero's injuries can be treated, but he can't afford it. One of the reason he agrees to act as a spy for the Colonel in the first place is a promise to get him back to Earth for treatment on company expense. It's one of the more important sub-plots of the movie and explains most of his early motivations.

House (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192072)

This explains why House is coming to an end...

THANK GOD! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192218)

Haha, sike! Go Science!

Take that USC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36192610)

AWESOME! and I heard the California education system was in the toilet.

Rob Summers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194256)

On a personal note, I was at Oregon State when Rob Summers was hit, and it was/is completely tragic. I really hope for him that this is as promising as it sounds. He's definitely putting his nickname "Superman" to the test...

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