In a recent study, published in Journal of Neurotrauma, researchers at University of Minnesota Medical School stimulated the spinal cord of patients who had suffered a paralyzing injury years before. The Minnesota research team showed that the treatment can immediately restore some voluntary movement and autonomic functions (like bowel, bladder, and cardiovascular) without the need of significant rehabilitation.
“This was an opportunity to use epidural stimulation, combine my background in mathematics, collaborate with people from multiple disciplines including biomedical engineering and set up a truly innovative trial,” said Dr. David Darrow, a neurosurgery resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a lead investigator for the E-STAND Clinical trial. He is also a senior neurosurgery resident at Hennepin Healthcare and University of Minnesota Medical Center. “We wanted to push the envelope for patients. Once we determined it worked, we moved on to knocking down other barriers to translation to patient care.”
Previous research showed that it is possible to restore some function to young and healthy patients within a few years of injury. But now, the new trial was conducted in two female patients in their 50s and 60s who were at 5 and 10 years from an injury that caused the complete loss of their lower body function and whose MRIs showed very little residual spinal cord at the level of injury.
“Enabling someone to move her legs more than 10 years after being paralyzed from spinal cord injury has been one of the greatest moments of my career,” said Uzma Samadani, Associate Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Neurosurgeon with Hennepin Healthcare. “I am grateful to my colleagues for their mutual hard work during the 2 years it took to get from idea to the first operation.”
In this study researchers expanded the inclusion guidelines of who could receive epidural stimulation.
“We believe that we are studying a population that is much closer to the general population of patients with spinal cord injury,” said Darrow. “We have opened the doors to so many more patients with traumatic spinal cord injury.”
“While we are excited for all this could mean for patients, there is still a lot of research to be done, both with this therapy and through other avenues, many of which we are studying at the University of Minnesota,” said Ann M. Parr, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Dr. Parr has an active translational spinal cord injury research laboratory at the Stem Cell Institute.
Source: Science Daily