Series | Superhuman

Spinal implants: Helping the paralyzed walk again

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Spinal implants hold an incredible promise to help cure paralysis caused by severe spinal cord injuries. Meet the scientists and patients doing the impossible.

A Spinal Cord Research Breakthrough

Dr. Susan Harkema and her team at Kentucky Spinal Cord and Research Center at the University of Louisville believe everything we thought about the spinal cord is wrong. We always thought that it was simply a conduit for messages from the brain, but her research suggests that the spinal cord itself thinks. Despite a severe injury, the severed section can be reactivated through electronic implants giving the patient the ability to walk, feel, regulate blood pressure, and regain bladder or sexual functions.

Harkema and her team are using an off the shelf electronic implant to prove that the spinal cord itself can learn, giving patients back the ability to walk and feel. If these implants were to be specially designed as a spinal cord stimulator, it could be the most promising form of curing a spinal cord injury.

In this video, we meet Dr. Harkema and her team, who are combining internal medicine, physical therapy, and functional electrical stimulation to treat paralyzed patients with spinal cord injuries. We also talk to paraplegics walking as they rehabilitate injuries thought to be life-long. We also meet a spine surgeon who implants the electrodes into the spine in order to help the rehabilitation.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out last Superhuman video about a man who set out to break a world record…in an exoskeleton.

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