Brain Training Programs Restore Feeling of Spinal Cord Injury Patients
A recent study led by the renowned neuroscientist Dr. Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University in North Carolina and published in the journal Scientific Reports has showed once again the high power of technology and how it can impact in our lives. Researchers have discovered an innovating technique called Brain-Machine Interface, which allows patients with spinal cord injury recover sensation in lower limbs after many years paralyzed.
The experiment has been performing with 8 people, 6 men and 2 women who had been completely paralyzed from the waist down for many years. The treatment has lasted for 2 years and they spent at least 2 hours per week and 2,000 training sessions connected to electronic devices including VR software connected directly with patients’ brain to simulate full control of their legs. In order to decode and record the brain’s signals, patients had to wear fitted caps lined with 11 non-invasive electrodes and they were asked to imagine them walking in the real world. During all this time, experts could discover that patients had muscle movements and feeling in their lower limbs, which they could not move at all before cause of the spinal cord injury. The device was transforming their thoughts in real muscle movements and according to the good results doctors could upgrade patients’ status to partial paralysis.
Previous studies claim that a large percentage of patients who are diagnosed complete paraplegia may still have some spinal nerves intact. For this reason, researches especially focused on these inactive nerves to try to stimulate them and after having 7 month of therapy, 4 of the patients surprisingly started to react and they improved sensation and control over their muscles. Furthermore, they saw improvements in bowel and bladder functions and advances in their independence at home such as being able to move themselves from wheelchairs to the toilet. But the biggest change was experimented by a 32 years old woman when she was able to walk by using a walker as well as moving her legs voluntarily after being 13 year paralyzed.
The facts show that patients who use brain-machine for a certain period of time can significantly improve motor behavior, tactile sensations and visceral functions. After such an impressive results, more resources were invested in this research and more physical equipment’s as walking devices or overhead harnesses were introduced to test patients’ control over their posture, balance and ability.
At the moment, researchers keep on studying about paralysis and testing by using the very first technologies with new patients who were injured recently to prove if providing an earlier treatment could allow a quicker recovery. This could be considering other evidence of how new technologies applied to health care helps to improve people’s lives and what researchers are wondering right now is how they could make this type of technology accessible if results continue being as good as now.
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