Current Research

RESTORE, SCI

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Are you interested in the spinal cord injury study described below? If so, we would like to hear from you! 

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Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation


What it is

Epidural stimulation describes a process where electrical current is applied to the spinal cord. Stimulation is applied through a small implant that is placed over the dura (protective layer around the spinal cord). For people with spinal cord injury, stimulation is applied below the level of injury. The intervention is typically a 45-minute outpatient procedure (statement by Neurosurgeon Dr. Darrow, U Minnesota). To date, stimulation has resulted in a wide array of benefits. For example, we recently published work showing that stimulation allowed volitional motor function below the level of injury for people with clinically-complete injuries of more than 5-10 years. This was achieved without rehabilitation and occurred the first time we turned stimulation on. Of course, rehabilitation is likely crucial to maximize the benefits of the stimulation. We have also observed reductions in bowel time, improved sexual function, improved lower-urinary tract function, more stable blood pressure, and increased exercise capacity. 

How it works

In almost all clinically-complete injuries there are some preserved connections across the site of injury, but these connections are not functional in a normal state (i.e., dormant). By applying electrical current to the nervous system circuits within the spinal cord below the level of injury, we are able to re-awaken these dormant connections. This functional re-connection allows for the brain to recover some of the lost control over systems below the level of injury. Furthermore, the spinal cord is not simply a relay pathway (i.e., highway) transmitting information from the brain to the periphery. It also contains intricate interconnections that can process information and coordinate outputs with little input from the brain. Stimulation also helps to re-awaken these complex interconnections. Together, the awakening of dormant pathways and activation of complex interconnections with stimulation often leads to meaningful improvements in function for people with spinal cord injury. We are harnessing these concepts to provide health solutions for people with spinal cord injury.