19 Apr When Medical Technology Becomes a Blessing

It became a daily routine by the media delivering information about new inventions made by someone somewhere, leaving many of us with the question: does mankind really need this, or that?

But then there are scientists able to assemble many pieces of a huge global puzzle and the world calls out: “Eureka!” The saying goes back to the ancient mathematician and physicist Archimedes and is used to express joy after solving a difficult task. This is exactly what happened recently in the area of surgery and medical technology:

Epidural stimulation brings back limb movement and sensitivity to patients who became paralyzed after spinal cord injury (SCI)!

The first research results were published by scientists at the University of Louisville (USA), in 2011. It involved four patients suffering from motor complete spinal cord injury.

With no doubt, we can call this a blessing for mankind. Here is why:

Statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) show, as many as 500 000 people suffer a spinal cord injury per year. A 2009 study by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation revealed, approximately 5.6 million people are living with paralysis in the USA alone. The number equals the combined population of Berlin, and Toronto!

The risk of becoming a victim of spinal cord injury is more imminent than most of us imagine. This graphic shows how and where it happens:

 

Source: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Source: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

 

Recently the case of Ian Burkhart, a 24 year old American, suffering from a quadriplegic hand after an accident five years ago hit the news. The quadriplegic is a form of paraplegia, in which all four limbs, so both legs and arms are affected. After the implantation of an epidural stimulation device, Ian gained back the ability to play guitar again. This is another significant breakthrough in modern medicine using this technique.

In Thailand, surgeons at Epidural Stimulation Now (ESN) and Unique Access made similar attempts in recent years to bypass the injured spinal cord and experienced great success. They are confident, epidural electrical stimulation is the most promising treatment today. See two of ESN’s latest success stories here.

How does epidural electrical stimulation work?

If the usual path is damaged or broken, find a way to go around reaching the target. A central Pattern Generator (CPG) works like a control center inside the spinal cord that interprets sensory information. Epidural stimulation activates the spinal cord nerve circuitry with impulses that would ordinarily originate in the brain. The pulse generator delivers low frequency electrical currents to lower parts of the spinal cord and stimulates the spinal nerves. This kind of by-pass generates new nerve pathways thus enabling the patients to control movements. After some time, rehabilitation, and training, it even works when the implemented device is turned off.

Over a period of time patients are able to stand up on their own and able to walk with support, with the ultimate goal to walk without any support. Epidural stimulation can be offered to patients with both- incomplete and complete injuries.

This treatment combined with extensive training and rehabilitation is available now through ESN.

Who is physically qualified to undergo this treatment?

So far, the most suitable patients in view of best results are patients with sub-acute and chronic spinal cord injury, where the injury is located between C4-5 to T9.

How long does it take to successfully execute this treatment?

The entire treatment takes around 40 days. During this period of time patients receive the device during the first weeks, followed by extensive rehab and training for the next 5 weeks. All of the treated patients started to see results during this period, which doctors say is a significant boost to the patient’s motivation during the phase of training on how to use the device and how to do mapping and physical exercise, even after their release from the clinic. The improvements are progressive and patients keep improving with literally every “step” they make.

How many physical therapists are involved in rehabilitation?

At the clinics, ESN patients will find a very experienced team of therapists who worked with patients suffering from same or similar conditions before. Normally they are assisted by one lead therapist who does the mapping, and other therapists involved in training and rehabilitation.

Capacity of treatments of SCI at ESN facilities

Due to the novelty of SCI treatment with epidural stimulation devices, the current number of patients can not be determined at present.

However, the hospitals are confident to operate on a fairly large scale and can handle many patients.