Fighting Paralysis

For individuals with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury, there has not been a lot of new product activity in the area of neuroprosthetics in recent years. Although new functional electrical stimulation systems for assisted breathing and for foot-drop have been approved, these indications serve a minority of the SCI community. In part because of the overall tardiness of getting FDA approval for new medical devices and in part because of the relatively small market sizes involved, Christopher Reeve’s dream of restoring walking to those paralyzed by SCI has remained on hold in the eight years since his death.

But as we report in our article on page 1 of this issue, there is new hope for paraplegics in the form of promising research using spinal cord stimulation coupled with focused neurorehabilitation. We were particularly pleased to see the department of neurological surgery and the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville receive a $6.3 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. This grant will go a long way towards helping Susan Harkema’s team at Louisville develop a stimulation system that is designed specifically for their purpose. At the North American Neuromodulation Society meeting in Las Vegas, NV last December, Harkema complained that the off-the-shelf SCS system she used in her research was more suited for pain therapy than the locomotor rehabilitation she is pursuing. An SCS system that is fine tuned for her needs—which include placing 16 epidural leads on the spinal cord from L1 to S1—will likely improve outcomes for subjects in her trials. It may also help neuromodulation system vendors develop new SCS products to serve the neurorehabilitation market.

We are also encouraged that this line of research is being pursued at several institutions besides Louisville, including UCLA, Caltech, and Case Western Reserve University. And in Europe, the €9 million NeuWalk project promises to deliver a fully operative spinal neuroprosthetic system along the lines of the locomotor system being researched by Grégoire Courtine’s research team at EPFL.

To continue to highlight the potential for restoring movement to people with paralysis, Neurotech Reports is pleased to announce that we will publish Jennifer French’s personal story of regaining function after a spinal cord injury using an implanted neuroprosthetic system. The book, which will be available later this year in print and e-book formats, is based in large part on Jennifer’s blog “Stand by Me.” Part of the proceeds from sales of each book will by donated to the Institute for Functional Recovery at Case Western Reserve University.

With initiatives such as these, we are hopeful that the promise of restoring locomotion to paralyzed people will be realized in our lifetime.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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