A medical team at the University of Louisville and the University of California has reported that four paralyzed men have been able to move their legs for the first time in years after electrical stimulation of their spinal cords.
The men were able to flex their toes, ankles and knees – but could not walk independently.
A report, in the journal Brain, suggests the electricity makes the spinal cord more receptive to the few messages still arriving from the brain.
Experts said it could become a treatment for spinal injury.
The spinal cord acts like a high-speed rail line carrying electrical messages from the brain to the rest of the body. But if there is any damage to the track, then the message will not get through.
The men have been able to move their legs for the first time in years after electrical stimulation of their spinal cords
People with spinal cord injuries can lose all movement and sensation below the injury.
The team has been pioneering electrical stimulation of the spinal cord below the injury.
Three years ago they reported that Rob Summers – a keen baseball player who was paralyzed from the chest down in a hit-and-run car accident – was able to move his legs while supported on a treadmill.
Now three more patients, who had been paralyzed for at least two years, have gone through the procedure and regained some movement.
They were able to control their legs at a precise pace and all but one of them was able to control the force of the movement.
It confirms that function can be restored after paralysis and that Rob Summers’ case was not a one-off.
It is not certain how the stimulation helps, however the researchers believe that some signals are still crossing the injury, but are not normally strong enough to trigger movement.
The electrical stimulation made the lower spinal cord more excitable so it was able to respond when the messages did arrive from the brain.
Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of the US National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, said: “Now that spinal stimulation has been successful in four out of four patients, there is evidence to suggest that a large cohort of individuals, previously with little realistic hope of any meaningful recovery from spinal cord injury, may benefit from this.”
University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware has suffered a horrific leg fracture that left the bone in his right leg protruding on live TV during NCAA Tournament game Louisville-Duke on Sunday night.
Kevin Ware, 20, jumped high in the air to block a three-point shot when he landed badly on the leg as he crashed to the court.
Teammates and Coach Rick Pinoto were in tears as kevin Ware screamed with pain and writhed on the court.
Kevin Ware has suffered a horrific leg fracture that left the bone in his right leg protruding on live TV during NCAA Tournament game
An official told several reporters that a bone snapped. Trainers immediately covered the leg with a towel and placed Kevin Ware on a backboard, then lifted him onto a stretcher.
CBS reported that Kevin Ware whispered encouragement to his team as he was carried away: “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK. Go win this thing.”
Kevin Ware’s teammates responded to the shock of his loss by returning to the court with a vengeance. The second half of the game saw Louisville dominate Duke – clobbering the Blue Devils 85-63.
Louisville will play Wichita State in the Final Four next weekend. The winner of that game plays for the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
His teammates held up a jersey with Kevin Ware’s name as they celebrated their resounding victory.
Silence fell over Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the Elite Eight game was being played, as horrified fans waited for news of Kevin Ware’s condition.
The injury occurred with 6:33 left in the first half as Duke’s Tyler Thornton made a 3-pointer to get the Blue Devils within 21-20. Kevin Ware tried to contest the shot and his leg buckled when he landed, bending gruesomely.
The injury happened in front of the Louisville bench, and the Cardinals were overcome with emotion.
Russ Smith collapsed onto the floor, along with several players, and was clearly crying as doctors attended to Kevin Ware.
As Kevin Ware was being loaded onto a stretcher, the Cardinals gathered at midcourt until coach Rick Pitino called them over, saying that Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.
Rick Pitino wiped away his eyes as Kevin Ware was wheeled out, as did several of the Louisville players.
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who famously sustained a broken leg during a Monday night football game against the New York Giants, tweeted: “Watching Duke/ Louisville my heart goes out to Kevin Ware.”
Kevin Ware, a native of the Bronx, New York, is a sophomore guard who has become a force on the number-one-ranked Cardinals team during the NCAA Tournament.
ESPN.com reports he could undergo surgery tonight at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Team officials say Kevin Ware’s pain is “under control”.