Health + Behavior
Experimental implant shows promise for restoring voluntary movement after spinal cord injury
UCLA scientists test electrical stimulation that bypasses injury; technique boosts patient?s finger control, grip strength up to 300 percent
Elaine Schmidt | December 13, 2016
A spinal stimulator being tested by doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is showing promise in restoring hand strength and movement to a California man who broke his neck in a dirt bike accident five years ago.
In June, Brian Gomez, now 28, became one of the first people in the world to undergo surgery for the experimental device.
UCLA scientists inserted the 32-electrode stimulator below the site of Gomez?s spinal cord injury, near the C-5 vertebrae in the middle of his neck. That?s the area most commonly associated with quadriplegia, the loss of function and feeling in all four limbs.
?The spinal cord contains alternate pathways that it can use to bypass the injury and get messages from the brain to the limbs,? said Dr. Daniel Lu, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the school?s Neuroplasticity and Repair Laboratory. ?Electrical stimulation trains the spinal cord to find and use these pathways.?
Although other devices have shown promise recently for treating paralysis, they were either tested in animals or relied on robotic limbs. The approach used by the UCLA doctors is unique because it is designed to boost patients? abilities to move their own hands, and because the device is implanted in the spine instead of the brain.