UCLA tests spinal stimulator to restore voluntary movement following spinal cord injury

14 December 2016 (Last Updated December 14th, 2016 18:30)

Doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center have tested the efficacy of a spinal stimulator to regain strength and mobility in a hand following an injury.

UCLA tests spinal stimulator to restore voluntary movement following spinal cord injury

Doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center have tested the efficacy of a spinal stimulator to regain strength and mobility in a hand following an injury.

The electrode was tested on a US resident, Brian Gomez who broke his neck in a dirt bike accident five years ago.

The 32-electrode stimulator was inserted below the site of the patient’s spinal cord injury, near the C-5 vertebrae in the middle of his neck which then modulates the nerve signal to assist in the patient’s abilities to freely move his hands.

UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine neurosurgery associate professor Dr Daniel Lu said: “The spinal cord contains alternate pathways that it can use to bypass the injury and get messages from the brain to the limbs.

“Electrical stimulation trains the spinal cord to find and use these pathways.”

The palm-sized electrode is remotely controlled by the patients and doctors to regulate the frequency and intensity of the stimulation.

Lu further added: “We can dial up or dial down different parameters and programme the stimulator to activate specific electrodes.

“It is an ongoing process that retrains the spinal cord and, over time, allows patients to strengthen their grip and regain mobility in their hands.”

"It is an ongoing process that retrains the spinal cord and, over time, allows patients to strengthen their grip and regain mobility in their hands."

The doctors have also implanted a small battery pack and processing unit under the skin of the patient’s lower back.

In addition to restoring hand function, the UCLA team aims to enable patients get back to their normal routine and perform daily tasks, overcoming effects of injury.

Earlier, the UCLA scientists have also performed two surgeries using these types of electrodes which were implanted in patients’ necks to restore function after cervical spinal cord injuries.


Image: Patient undergoing treatment with spinal simulator at UCLA. Photo: UCLA Health.