Could Epidural Stimulation Research be the next cure for SCI?

In pursuit of the next breakthrough, the scientific community has developed a new method to help individuals with chronic spinal cord injury experience recovery of motor function as well as autonomic functions including bladder and bowel control, sexual function, and temperature regulation. This also includes improved cardiovascular and respiratory capabilities.

  Picture illustrates the location of the epidural stimulator in the spine.

Picture illustrates the location of the epidural stimulator in the spine.

Epidural stimulation is the application of a continuous electrical current — at varying frequencies and intensities — to specific locations on the lower part of the spinal cord.  In simpler terms, a stimulator is placed inside the body and wired to the spinal cord. The stimulator is controlled by a remote about the size of a smartphone. When the stimulator is on, commands such as "move my right leg" result in movement. In a way, the electrical pulses are "awakening" the nerve cells in the spinal cord.  Watch this video to see how it works.

The research is sponsored by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation along with research partners at University of Louisville and UCLA.  Thus far, they have demonstrated its effectiveness on four subjects.  Next, their goal is to recruit 36 SCI survivors and demonstrate the effectiveness of epidural stimulation in improving functions such as cardiovascular, sexual and bladder function, as well as the ability to facilitate voluntary movements.

The study will also begin to track the impact of epidural stimulation to alleviate the financial burden of SCI on individuals and the healthcare system. Participants are expected to benefit from reduced medication and hospitalization expenses related to treating complications of paralysis.  Expanding the study from four participants to 36 will yield the data and evidence needed to expedite the delivery of epidural stimulation therapy to the clinic.

To launch the expanded study would require a budget of about $15 million and through their fundraising efforts, they're 60% to the goal.  To learn more about this study and donate, check out their web page.