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Four people with paraplegia are able to voluntarily move previously paralyzed muscles as a result of a novel therapy that involves electrical spinal stimulation. These patients are helping challenge the idea that people with damaged spinal cords cannot recover.One of the four people, Rob Summers (see in the video below) was a pitcher at Oregon State University before a car crash in 2006 paralyzed him from the chest down. He went through intense physical therapy for three years without improvement. Then researchers implanted electrodes that mimicked his brain signals. Now Summers and three others who had the same treatment can move muscles in their legs.

“Being able to move my toes, ankles, knees on command… It was absolutely incredible,” Summers said. “There are not enough words to describe how I felt. At one point it was just a dream, and now it’s reality.”

An electronic stimulator originally developed to suppress pain signals is reconnecting Summers’ brain with his spinal cord. Through hard work, he had reclaimed use of his arms, but the stimulator has unlocked his legs. Summers is now exercising three times a day to retrain long-unused muscles.

The other three patients in the study include two with complete motor and sensory paralysis, and one, similar to Summers, with complete motor paralysis but some ability to experience sensation below his injury. Within just a few days of the start of stimulation, all three patients regained some voluntary control of previously paralyzed muscles.

Researchers said the patients’ progress offers promise for six million paralyzed Americans.

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