A new experimental spinal cord treatment is giving some living with paralysis hope for future mobility and an improved quality of life. While the treatment is not a cure, researchers hope that it will offer incremental victories for those living with the effects of a spinal cord injury, such as lack of mobility, breathing issues, incontinence, physical dysfunction, and lack of temperature control.
Experimental Spinal Cord Treatment: An Overview
The experimental treatment involves using an epidural stimulator, which has traditionally been used to treat pain (neuromodulation). However, the placement of the device and application are vastly different. In pain management, the stimulator is placed beneath the skin. In the new experimental treatment, the device is placed onto the side of the spinal cord, which makes it possible to send electrical signals over the damaged portion of the spine into the lower spine.
While the treatment does not restore function to dead neurons, it does stimulate healthy neurons that have been rendered inactive or stunted by the injury. This allows for the restoration of some electrical signals along the spine. This has been shown to increase muscle mass, improve sexual function, stabilize blood pressure and improve bladder function in some individuals. It has also allowed some to voluntarily move their lower limbs when the stimulator is on.
New Treatment May Improve Quality of Life for Some
The treatment will never restore the function that people had before their injury. However, it may improve the quality of life for some individuals battling the numerous symptoms of a spinal cord injury, such as the inability to control body temperature or breathe properly.
Researchers have found that the treatment achieves incremental victories, which can place people on the pathway to improvement and a better quality of life.
The Next Steps for This Exciting Treatment
To date, 21 people have been implanted with an epidural stimulator for the purpose of treating a spinal cord injury. More trials are needed before the application of this device becomes available to the public. Currently, the research is being funded by grant money supplied by the National Institutes of Health and others. In the future, researchers hope that the treatment will be approved by the FDA and insurance companies, which would make it available to more patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.
Although this new treatment is not a miracle cure, it offers hope for a better life for those living with spinal cord injuries. Modest, incremental successes in improving how electrical signals travel along the spinal cord can have a dramatic impact on quality of life and pain control. And that’s a win for many people!
~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension!
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