Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new treatment breakthrough for people with spinal cord injuries. Treatment allows some spinal cord injury patients to restore hand and arm function. Researchers say that nearly 18,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year, which leaves many of them unable to use their hands and arms.
Without the ability to use their hands and arms, they would not be able to perform daily tasks such as eating, caring, or drinking water without assistance. The process was developed in University of Washington Physical therapy is used in conjunction with non-invasive stimulation of nerve cells in the spinal cord. The team was able to help six participants in the Seattle area regain some hand and arm movement.
The recovered movement of study participants lasted 3 to 6 months after treatment ended. Lead author Dr Fatima Inanichi said such an immediate reaction to the first stimulation session was not expected at the start of the study. She said her experience has been that there is a limit to the amount of people that can recover, but that seems to be changing.
The university’s team included researchers from the Center for Neurotechnology. They have combined stimulation with standard physical therapy exercises, but the stimulation they use does not require surgery. Some similar studies require implantation of a neurostimulator to deliver electrical current to the damaged spinal cord.
The new process developed by university researchers uses small patches that stick to the skin that resemble bandages. Pads are placed around the affected area at the back of the neck and conducting electrical impulses. All study participants were infected for at least a year and a half, and some were unable to wiggle their fingers or thumbs while some had limited movement at the start of the study. Participants were part of a five-month training program that included extensive physical therapy training three times per week for two hours each time. The researchers say that some participants regained some hand function during training alone, but all of them noticed improvement when stimulation was combined with training.