Three patients with chronic paraplegia were able to walk over ground thanks to precise electrical stimulation of their spinal cords via a wireless implant. In a double study published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, Swiss scientists Grégoire Courtine (EPFL and CHUV/Unil) and Jocelyne Bloch (CHUV/Unil) show that, after a few months of training, the patients were able to control previously paralyzed leg muscles even in the absence of electrical stimulation.

Three paraplegics who sustained cervical spinal cord injuries many years ago are now able to walk with the aid of crutches or a walker thanks to new rehabilitation protocols that combine targeted electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord and weight-assisted therapy.

This latest study, called STIMO (STImulation Movement Overground), establishes a new therapeutic framework to improve recovery from spinal cord injury. All patients involved in the study recovered voluntary control of leg muscles that had been paralyzed for many years. Unlike the findings of two independent studies published recently in the United States on a similar concept, neurological function was shown to persist beyond training sessions even when the electrical stimulation was turned off. The STIMO study, led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Switzerland, is published in the 1 November 2018 issues of Nature and Nature Neuroscience.