Research in Sao Paulo, Brazil has seen some fantastic results with spinal cord injury patients after undergoing ‘brain training’ to teach their brain how to walk again.
A 32 year old woman has made the most progress with the programme, having gone from full paralysis to partial paralysis, and is now able to walk again with the assistance of a walker, braces and her therapist. Before undergoing the programme, the woman was unable to even stand up. She can now move her legs voluntarily whilst her body is supported in a harness.
The ‘Walk Again’ programme aims to help the brain to regain control of nerves that have been dormant by creating images of walking in the brain. This is through therapy sessions including virtual-reality football and robotic exoskeletons.
This virtual-reality is created by wearing goggles to make the brain think that the legs are working correctly. By entering into this virtual-reality, the patient’s brain starts to believe they are walking and start to engage with surviving dormant nerves which have not had signals through them for a long time.
The lead neuroscientist on the research, Dr Miguel Nicolelis, commented, “One previous study has shown that a large percentage of patients who are diagnosed as having complete paraplegia may still have some spinal nerves left intact. These nerves may go quiet for many years because there is no signal from the cortex to the muscles. Over time, training with the brain-machine interface could have rekindled these nerves. It may only be a small number of fibres that remain, but this may be enough to convey signals from the motor cortical area of the brain to the spinal cord.”
This research and the brain programme could play a huge part in the treatment of people who have sustained a spinal cord injury in the future and have a massive impact on how rehabilitation is given to patients.
At CFG Law, we are always interested in hearing about new research that can help people who have sustained a spinal cord injury. The consequences of these injuries are devastating, and any progress and hope for the future is a huge step in the treatment of paralysed people.