In 2013, a 29-year old Wisconsin man was paralyzed in a snowmobile accident. In the old days, that’s the end of the story. A life in a wheelchair followed.
Jered Chinnock is walking again, the Mayo Clinic reported this week in Nature Medicine because, it turns out, “those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis,” says Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D., co-principal investigator, neurosurgeon and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Laboratories.
A paralyzed man walked again. Think about that for a moment. Ain’t science grand?
In the study, which began in 2016, the man participated in 22 weeks of physical therapy and then had an electrode surgically implanted by Dr. Lee and his Mayo Clinic neurosurgery team.
The implant sits in the epidural space — the outermost part of the spinal canal — at a specific location below the injured area. The electrode connects to a pulse generator device under the skin of the man’s abdomen and communicates wirelessly with an external controller. Mayo Clinic received permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the device for a condition not covered by its FDA-approved label.
The research team then tried to determine if the man could stand and walk with assistance. During 113 rehabilitation sessions, the researchers adjusted stimulation settings, trainer assistance, harness support and speed of the treadmill to allow the man maximum independence.
The research demonstrated that the man was able to walk over ground using a front-wheeled walker and step on a treadmill placing his arms on support bars to help with balance. However, when stimulation was off, the man remained paralyzed.
“There is the hopeful side of, maybe I’ll gain that — where I can leave the wheelchair behind, even if it is to walk to the refrigerator,” Chinnock, of Tomah, tells the Associated Press.