Imagine--it's a normal day, you're driving like normal, and your truck suddenly ends up flipped over. In the accident, your spinal cord is compressed and you're given minimal chances to walk again.
That's the story of Kelly Thomas, whose life was flipped upside down when she was paralyzed from her waist down at age 19. But now, thanks to research by the University of Louisville, she's up on her feet once more.
Using a breakthrough device, called the RestoreAdvanced SureScan MRI Neurostimulator, Kelly Thomas took her first steps since her accident earlier this year. The surgically implanted device works by sending electrical pulses into her spine, which in turn sends signals to her legs. With a little concentration, Thomas, along with some of the other patients that participated in the study, is able to walk.
The device is activated via a handheld remote, but the eventual goal is to make it responsive to voice commands. Adding this feature would make the device usable to people with spinal cord injuries that affect their upper bodies.
Of course, as with any pioneering breakthrough, there are still a fair share of challenges involved with helping handicapped people walk again. First of all, because it is a spinal cord implant, this only helps people who have spinal cord-related paralysis. Thus, this particular solution won't help with paralysis due to something like brain trauma or congenital disease.
Secondly, this device has not restored the ability to walk to all patients involved in the study. Three of the participants, including Thomas, were able to walk with assistance after receiving the implant, but two were not--although significant mobility in different parts of their bodies was restored. Researchers at the university are still working out all the science behind all this, so hopefully, in the future, the technique is perfected for everyone.
Despite the hurdles, this device is a major breakthrough for the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries. As this technology continues to advance, maybe we'll even see a world one day where wheelchairs are a thing of the past.
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