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NEWS AND EVENTS

Article published in Science Translational Medicine

Closed-loop neuromodulation of spinal sensorimotor circuits controls refined locomotion after comple...

14-16 November 2012 International Conference on Neurorehabilitation

NEUWalk scientists Prof. Courtine and Prof. Micera participate in the conference.

Results published in Science and Nature Magazine

Rats with spinal cord injuries and severe paralysis are now walking thanks to researchers from NEUWa...

04-06-12 13:49

Results published in Science and Nature Magazine

Rats with spinal cord injuries and severe paralysis are now walking thanks to researchers from NEUWalk.

 

Published in the June 1, 2012 issue of Science, the results show that a severed section of the spinal cord can make a comeback when its own innate intelligence and regenerative capacity is awakened. According to lead author Grégoire Courtine, it is yet unclear if similar rehabilitation techniques could work for humans, but the observed nerve growth hints at new methods for treating paralysis.

“After a couple of weeks of neurorehabilitation with a combination of a robotic harness and electrical-chemical stimulation, our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles when stimulated,” explains Courtine.

Watch movieclip here

Waking up the spinal cord

It is well known that the brain and spinal cord can adapt and recover from moderate injury, a quality known as neuroplasticity. But until now the spinal cord expressed so little plasticity after severe injury that recovery was impossible. The conducted research proves that, under certain conditions, plasticity and recovery can take place in these severe cases—but only if the dormant spinal column is first woken up.

To do this, Courtine and his team injected a chemical solution of monoamine agonists into the rats. These chemicals trigger cell responses by binding to specific dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin receptors located on the spinal neurons. This cocktail replaces neurotransmitters released by brainstem pathways in healthy subjects and acts to excite neurons and ready them to coordinate lower body movement when the time is right.

Five to 10 minutes after the injection, the scientists electrically stimulated the spinal cord with electrodes implanted in the outermost layer of the spinal canal, called the epidural space. “This localized epidural stimulation sends continuous electrical signals through nerve fibers to the chemically excited neurons that control leg movement. All that is left was to initiate that movement,” explains Rubia van den Brand, contributing author to the study.

 

Citation:“Restoring voluntary control of locomotion after paralyzing spinal cord injury” Science, June 1st 2012
Authors: Rubia van den Brand, Janine Heutschi, Quentin Barraud, Jack DiGiovanna, Kay Bartholdi, Michèle Huerlimann, Lucia Friedli, Isabel Vollenweider, Eduardo Martin Moraud, Simone Duis, Nadia Dominici, Silvestro Micera, Pavel Musienko, and Grégoire Courtine.

 

Based on an article by Michael David Mitchell, EPFL Mediacom