The latest good news involving additional subjects enrolled in the clinical trials of the so-called Epidural Stimulation comes out of Switzerland where three individuals regained the ability to walk following insertion of an implant device on the spine that sends bursts of targeted stimulation to the muscles that intend to move. In effect, the stimulation occurs on an as-needed basis, roughly mimicking the body’s own signaling mechanism.
This news follows similar results experienced here in the U.S. which we reported back in September.
The treatment is still experimental and its effectiveness for others with complete or partial paralysis is yet to be worked out. The three men had some sensation in their legs before the trial began, and they needed months of intensive training to achieve their first awkward steps. They still rely on wheelchairs; two can walk out in the community, using walkers.
Each of them has learned to move previously limp muscles without help from the implant — an indication that the electrical stimulation prompted nerves to regrow.
We couldn’t help but notice in the NYT article, the last paragraph included the following:
Even so, rehab — the hard work, sweat and discipline that have proved so helpful for many patients — will be essential to the recovery process. “We’ve known for years that people” with partial paralysis can respond to rehabilitation, Dr. Anderson said. “The problem comes down to access; long-term rehabilitation in the chronic setting is not paid for by very many insurers. As a result, most people with motor incomplete injuries do not recover to their fullest potential.”
It’s the challenge that most persons with SCI face and until we can get the insurers and the government to buy in to the fact that the investment in additional rehab would be money well invested, these breakthroughs can only do so much on their own.