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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There’s new hope for people who are paralyzed as a small implant is making a big impact. Scientists in Switzerland developed a spinal implant that’s helping paralyzed people walk again.
David Mzee was paralyzed for seven years until one of Switzerland’s leading neurosurgeons gave him a spinal implant that changed his life.
When the device is turned off, he can’t move. When it’s on, he continues to walk.
“This little device that is an impulse generator is giving impulses to the electrode that is located on the spinal cord,” Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University, said.
Mzee can control the stimulation remotely through his watch. When it’s on, he’s able to walk more than half a mile.
“I think you have to try and do the impossible to make the possible, possible,” Mzee said, “and I think we’re doing that and it feels good.”
Nerves in the spinal cord send signals from the brain to the legs. In someone who is paralyzed, there is usually a small signal but it’s too weak to create movement.
The implant boosts the signal activating muscles in the legs.
The scientist who developed the technique says the implant even seems to help repair damaged nerves.
“Nerve fibers are growing again, they are reconnecting the brain to the spinal cord,” Professor Gregoire Courtine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said.
Doctors are working to make the stimulation more comfortable for patients like Mzee so they can keep the device active all the time.
While the research shows paralysis can be reversed to some degree, the question remains: by how much?
The new research was published in the journal Nature.