Tag Archives: paraplegia

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again with Chemical, Electrical Stimulation

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again

Scientists at the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have found a way to restore full movement in rats paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. This new approach to a problem scientists have been trying to solve for years involves spinal nerve stimulation to help overcome the paralysis.

Gregoire Courtine led a team of researchers working for half a decade to make rats with severe paralysis walk again. The rats’ spinal cords were cleanly cut, then researchers stimulated spinal nerve circuits with an electrical current from implanted electrodes, in addition to injections of a chemical mix.

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again chart

After the treatment, the rats underwent thorough physical training. Secured in a harness so that only their back feet touched the ground, the rats were then placed on a treadmill, which produced reflexive stepping. Once they regained that reflexive movement they were placed on solid ground, still in the harness, and motivated to move their legs to reach a piece of tempting chocolate. It took only two to three weeks from the onset of training before the rats were moving on their own.

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again

“Our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles,” said Courtine.

To date, over 100 rats have regained the walking ability, to varying degrees, thanks to the treatment that produces an extensive rewiring in the brain and spinal cord.

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again

“This kind of approach will not cure spinal cord injury, but it might someday help some patients recover more ability to move around,” Courtine continued. “Only human studies will show how much the technique might help.”

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again

Several points must be taken into consideration before the human studies begin. First, it is unclear if this type of electrochemical kick start could have an effect on spinal cords that have been damaged for an extended period of time. Often, older spinal cord injuries have scar tissue, holes and areas where a significant number of nerve cells and fibers have died or degenerated. Another point is that very few people have the clean-break spinal cord injuries similar to the rats in the study.

Paralyzed Rats Walk Again

What the new research does give hope to, is that this therapy may be able to “wake up” a dormant spinal column. This “wake up call” may induce the spine’s natural ability to adapt and recover from injuries, a phenomenon that is known as neuroplasticity.

Swiss Paralysis Scientists of the Courtine G-Lab at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Internationally, scientists are agreeing that there is promise in this study. Bryce Vissel, head of the Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, remarked that the study “suggests we are on the edge of a truly profound advance in modern medicine: the prospect of repairing the spinal cord after injury.”


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Frontier Airlines Fined for Throwing Wheelchair Passenger off Flight

Quadriplegic John Morris Ordered off Frontier Flight

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has assessed a $50,000 civil penalty against Frontier Airlines for violating rules that are set to protect passengers with disabilities. Last summer, 24-year-old quadriplegic John Morris was forced off a Frontier Airlines flight because the pilot felt it was not safe for him to fly, despite the fact the family had flown on the same airline just two days prior.

The reason that the pilot refused to fly with Morris on board was that Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit the use of seatbelt extenders as a restraint device for the upper body. Frontier Airlines was fined because it failed to provide proper notice in advance of the return trip portion of Morris’s travel plans.

Quadriplegic John Morris Ordered off Frontier Airlines Flight

The DOT’s disability regulation states that if a passenger planning to travel notifies the airline of their disability, the airlines must notify the passenger of any limitations to the carrier’s ability to accommodate passengers with disabilities, regardless of whether the passenger requests the information. Under these regulations, Frontier Airlines should have provided Morris with a notification that he would need to bring alternative restraints.

“The Department of Transportation is committed to ensuring that airline passengers are treated fairly, and passengers with disabilities are no exception,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “At DOT, we take our aviation disability rules seriously and will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate these rules.”

Frontier Airlines, penalized for accessibility issue

In addition to this issue, Frontier Airlines was in violation of DOT disability regulations by not providing adequate assistance for pre-boarding and exiting the plane. DOT regulations state that airlines must provide assistance to passengers with disabilities, such as providing wheelchairs, mechanical lifts, additional personnel, and ramps as needed.

Frontier Airline‘s spokesperson, Lindsey Carpenter, stated “We have always taken the responsibility of serving customers with disabilities seriously. Since this incident we have conducted a thorough review of our training to identify areas of improvement and continue to be dedicated to providing our customers with a consistent and pleasant travel experience.”


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Paraplegic Doctor Performs Surgery from Wheelchair

Dr. Rummel - Surgeon in a Wheelchair

Dr. Ted Rummel is an orthopedic surgeon who has practiced at BJC Progress West Health Care Center in St. Louis, Missouri since 2007. His patients love him for his compassionate bedside manner and outgoing personality. His wheelchair doesn’t get a second glance or thought. “His patients love him,” said Lisa Weindel, Surgical Services manager.

Rummel appreciates the kind sentiments from his colleagues and his patients. “I just wanted to help people. It’s a tremendous field,” he says of his chosen profession. “People most of the time, they get better.” His own experience makes him appreciate that. Once very active, on a day in September 2010 he experienced numbness in his leg. Within only a few days he’d lost all feeling and motor ability. The cause was a congenital defect called a cavernous hemangioma, which had ruptured and hemorrhaged into his spinal chord. It left Rummel a paraplegic.

“It was unbelievable that this man with all this energy and everything was to have this diagnosis,” said nurse Diana Eisenbath.

doctor ted rummel with a patient

Although Rummel was grateful to have survived the condition, he feared that his career was finished. After weeks in the hospital and in rehab, however, he decided he was not going to let anything stop him doing what he loved. “I can’t stop doing this,” he said. “This is what I like to do. I pick up my medical journals and I’d read them and I loved reading them.”

And so just eight months after that fateful day he rolled back into the hospital and back where felt he belonged–in the operating room doing what he does best. “We can rotate the table,” he explained. “The chair goes up and down and back and forth.”

To his patients and colleagues, Rummel is an inspiration–a shining example of what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. “It was very scary and so now this is very special to be able to be back to work,” Rummel said of the experience. “I’m not going to let being a paraplegic determine who I am.”


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Tongue Piercing to Improve Wheelchair Mobility

Many Americans live with some form of paralysis. Some have had severe spinal cord injuries, causing paraplegia or quadriplegia, while others’ paralysis is caused by stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy. People who live with these conditions are quite often restricted to a wheelchair for mobility, due to the loss of the use of their legs. Those who are in a wheel chair don’t have many options available to them in order for them to move independently, especially someone who is paralyzed from the neck down and has lost the use of their arms in addition to their legs. There is the “sip and puff” technology, in which the chair is steered by breathing through a straw. Although this method works, it is not very comfortable; it is bulky and can often block the user’s face.

Researchers have now come up with a method they feel may be more comfortable by using a magnetic stud on a tongue ring and a headset with sensors that can pick up the signals from the tongue ring. This, of course, means that those individuals using this device would need to have their tongues pierced. The new tongue drive system was developed by Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Mouth with Tongue Piercing

To test out the equipment, 200 out of 20,000 applicants were selected. Martin Mireles, who has been paralyzed from a spinal injury for almost 20 years now, was recently fitted with the magnetic stud that allows him to steer his wheelchair. He was easily able to guide the wheelchair through an obstacle course lined with trash can, keeping his mouth closed and only needing to shift his tongue to travel in the correct direction.

Researchers chose to utilize the tongue in order to take advantage of some of the functions a severely disabled person still had. The tongue is a very strong muscle; it does not tire easily and is normally unaffected by spinal cord injuries, because it is directly connected to the brain through a cranial nerve. The magnet was first glued to the tongue, but often fell off after just a few hours. Dr. Anne Laumann, an associate professor of dermatology, suggested piercing.

“I think it’s great that something taboo can be used for therapeutic reasons,” Dr. Laumann said.


New Microchip Spinal Implant Helps Stimulate Paraplegic Legs


British engineers have been perfecting the tiniest spinal implant to date, the Active Book, which is no bigger than a child’s fingernail and can easily be placed into the spinal canal. The implant contains electrodes and a muscle stimulator all in one unit and can help people living with paraplegia to more fully exercise their leg muscles. In addition, the device has the potential for restoring function to bladder muscles and improve bowel capacity.

Until now, paraplegic leg muscles could be stimulated either by electrical current by either placing electrodes on the outside of the legs or by implanting electrodes directly on the nerve roots with a connecting cable running to an external stimulator. The Active Book is the first of its kind to house the electrodes and stimulator in one small package.


The device consists of tiny laser-cut, platinum foil electrodes that are folded into a 3D shape that look resembled the pages of a book, so that they can close around spinal nerve roots. The electrodes are welded to a silicon chip and hermetically sealed to prevent corrosion and add to the implant’s longevity.


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) project, spearheaded out of University College London and co-led by Professor Andreas Demosthenous, is behind the development of this amazing piece of assistive technology.

The work has the potential to stimulate more muscle groups than is currently possible with existing technology because a number of these devices can be implanted into the spinal canal,” said Professor Demosthenous. “Stimulation of more muscle groups means users can perform enough movement to carry out controlled exercise such as cycling or rowing.”

Expectations are that the Active Book will be made available for clinical studies on paralysis disabilities sometime in 2011.