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Published On: Wed, Jul 3rd, 2019

Texas Man Regains Motion After Experimental Spinal Cord Treatment

A Texas man, Kent Stephenson, was in a motocross accident ten years ago that left him paralyzed. He tried to prevent the accident, which was caused by a motor locking up, but he ended up severely injured. He claimed that he knew almost immediately that he could not move his legs.

Kent’s story took a turn for the better a few years after his accident when he decided to go to Louisville to be part of an experimental treatment for people suffering with spinal cord injuries.

photo/ Ulrike Mai

Dr. Susan Harkema is the doctor behind the treatment, and she is the rehabilitation director at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center.

Harkema claims that a person who suffers from paralysis loses some, if not all, of their ability to breathe, heart function is weakened, sexual function is impacted, and the person loses some function or all function of their bladder and bowels. Sometimes, the person loses the ability to regulate their body’s own temperature.

Harkema and her team are seeking small victories over paralysis, and she is quick to caution that these victories are not cures.

Her team is using a new device, called an epidural stimulator, which is implanted in the body. The treatment sends electric currents continually to the nervous system and can also help to improve pain.

Her team found that when implanting the device in the lower spinal cord region, some of the patients would regain their voluntary motion on their lower body. The discovery led to doctors realizing that some motion, thought to be lost forever, could be regained.

Harkema found that the portion below the injury, which contains millions of neurons, is still alive and waiting for a signal from the brain. The injured portion of the neck, where the bone is broken, may lose thousands of neurons.

Researchers never targeted the lower neurons for recovery.

Her team states that no one has had their function fully restored, but their spinal cord treatment has been able to restore some motion in a patient’s legs when they could not move their legs at all.

Stephenson claims that he has regained all of his voluntary movements and that he’s almost able to stand independently now.

Researchers hope that the 21 people that have received the epidural stimulator treatment will be enough for FDA approval of the device to bring it to more than just 21 people. She claims that the challenge with treatments is not the science but the access.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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