New hope is emerging for those left paralyzed by spinal-cord injuries. Electrical zaps to the spinal cord offered several patients the ability to move their legs again, researchers find. Two of four male patients studied since 2009 were living with complete motor and sensory paralysis—no movement or feeling in their legs. All had injuries two to four years old. They received implanted electrode stimulators—and all regained some degree of leg movement, with one seeing restored movement in the first week, LiveScience reports.
The subjects could move their legs, ankles, and toes to correspond with a wave on a computer screen. They could also flex their leg muscles to varying extents. One patient in 2009 was able to stand for several minutes during stimulation—though he had never completely lost sensation below his injury. All of the patients can once again control their bladders, bowels, and sexual function, even without active stimulation, USA Today reports. Scientists aren't sure quite how the stimulation is helping patients move, though it might improve some spinal connections. "Spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifelong sentence of complete paralysis," says an outside expert. (More spine stories.)