Spine

Study explores spinal cord stimulation to treat paralysis

A neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University is recruiting patients with paraplegia for a proof of concept experiment to determine whether intraspinal microstimulation technology can restore complex body movements.

Led by Peter E. Konrad, MD, PhD, the study requires participants who are undergoing a previously scheduled spinal surgery for a reason other than the experiment. Candidates should have a completely severed spinal cord between the thoracic 3 and thoracic 8 vertebrae without further damage below that point, according to a press release.

“I want absolutely no question that we are creating the movement and that there is no accidental circuitry input,” Konrad said in the press release.

Konrad with perform the study on two patients before expanding it further.

Joseph S. Cheng, MD, director of the Neurosurgery Spine Program, will oversee the data safety and monitoring of the study, according to the press release.

“This is such a landmark study, and one which has the potential to help paralyzed people walk again,” Cheng said. “Even at this early stage, I feel the concept of intraspinal microstimulation has shown the best promise at this time for our patients who suffer from paraplegia. I think whoever volunteers for this study will be leading the way for those suffering with paraplegia, and who really have no other options for treatment.”

Konrad cautioned, however, that participants cannot expect any permanent improvements in movement from the study in its proof of concept stage.

“We are not going to implant anything,” Konrad said. “We are just going to test the concept in the spinal cords of paralyzed people coming in for another reason for surgery.”

The study will build upon animal research conducted at the University of Alberta. Konrad and colleagues will apply micro-wires to map spinal cord circuits. The wires will be smaller than a strand of human hair.

“We are talking about a 0.1 mm to 0.2 mm sweet spot in the cord,” Konrad said in the release. “That makes it a very small area. If you stimulate one area of the cord, you can get a certain type of movement. You move it half a millimeter; you get another type of movement. If we can find that this sweet spot is lying dormant in paralyzed people, then there will be an enormous incentive to develop a device to awaken it.”

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