After more than ten years of multidisciplinary research in animal models, we developed an intervention that restored voluntary control of the legs after a spinal cord injury leading to complete paralysis. The therapy acts over two timescales. In the short term, electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord reawakens the neuronal circuits that coordinate leg movements. In the long-term, rehabilitation enabled by this stimulation and cutting-edge gravity assistance promotes a reorganization of neuronal pathways. This rewiring restores voluntary control of locomotor functions.
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The majority of spinal cord damage spares neuronal pathways that still connect the brain to the lumbar spinal cord. This region of the spinal cord contains the neuronal networks that activate leg muscles. While these neuronal networks are intact, the interruption of the communication with the brain deprives them of essential sources of excitation, leading to incomplete or complete paraplegia, depending on the severity of the injury.
Our combination of electrical spinal cord stimulation and gravity-assisted physical training exploits the intrinsic ability of the central nervous system to reorganize after injury. This therapy enables and guides the remodeling of neural circuits, thus helping the brain to help itself.
We are developing an Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation lead that is uniquely tailored to the functional anatomy of the spinal cord. This implant is surgically placed over the region of the spinal cord that produces leg movements. This region is located below spinal cord damage. The lead is connected to an implantable pulse generator that delivers brief bursts of electrical stimulation at the correct location and with the correct timing in order to facilitate the activation of leg muscles . This facilitates leg motor control during rehabilitative training.
The impact of neurorehabilitation is dependent of contextual conditions of training and to physical involvement. This is why we are developing a cutting-edge gravity-support platform that allows unconstrained locomotion within a large workspace. This platform enables optimal interactions between body and gravity, while keeping safety. In combination with electrical spinal cord stimulation, this training triggers a progressive reorganization of neuronal pathways that improves the recovery of leg movements.