This spinal electrical stimulation implant let a paralyzed man walk again

Here at Digital Trends, we’ve covered some amazing high-tech wheelchairs and even exosuits that can help people with lower body paralysis to walk again. Adding to (and, in some ways, potentially surpassing) that amazing assistive technology is some astonishing new work coming out of the Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic researchers recently demonstrated how an implanted electrical stimulator was able to help a man paralyzed four years ago in a snowmobile accident to regain the ability to stand — and even walk the length of a football field.

“This report is the first to show a man with complete loss of sensory and motor function of his lower body able — using epidural spinal stimulation and intense physical therapy — to step independently on a treadmill and step over ground with the help of a front-wheeled walker,” Dr. Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon who directs the Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Lab, told Digital Trends. “These findings support the concept that, after severe injury, spinal networks can be modulated and adapt to training with spinal stimulation to regain some control of function.”

While technology is a crucial part of this demonstration, however, this is by no means a story of tech as a magic “fix-all.” In order for the patient, Jered Chinnock, to be able to perform the miraculous feat he had to carry out a strenuous rehab regimen lasting for 43 weeks.

mayo clinic spinal stimulation implant mzezodk1ma
Mayo Clinic News Network

Interestingly, the researchers involved in the study aren’t exactly sure why the spinal stimulation is as effective as it is — although they have working hypotheses.

“The implant is placed below the injury over areas of the spinal cord that communicate sensorimotor signals to the legs,” Dr. Kristin Zhao, a biomedical engineer involved with the research, told us. “Epidural stimulation may enhance spinal network activity so these networks can receive weak, descending signals. Those signals may be crossing the injury and integrating incoming signals from the legs resulting in coordinated, robust motor functions.”

Having demonstrated the potential of spinal neuromodulation, the Mayo Clinic hopes to improve its understanding of spinal cord physiology and how emerging technologies can be used as part of treatment. “We want to better understand how this is happening, what is happening, and who it is most appropriate for,” Zhao continued. “We are also interested in the secondary effects of spinal cord injury on overall health and wellness — including bowel and bladder function, sexual function, and musculoskeletal changes — that otherwise would not be reversed with just exercise.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Home Theater

Kill your cable and switch to streaming with our painless guide

If you're going to quit cable or satellite for a streaming TV solution, you're going to want to get it right the first time. We've outlined exactly how to get started, step by step. Follow our lead, and you'll never look back.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.