A team of researchers at Minnesota’s Mayo clinic, led by an individual who was left with quadriplegia from a teenage injury, are pushing the boundaries of spinal regeneration, according to a new Star Tribune report.
The group, led by spinal cord injury researcher Peter Grahn, has published findings from a study that suggests that electrical stimulation, over time, can help restore movement to paralyzed limbs.
Results from the study was published in the journal Natural Medicine, according to the report.
The researchers initially set out to replicate a similar study that showed that electrical stimulation could help individuals move paralyzed limbs, according to the Star Tribune.
In the Mayo clinic trial, investigators implanted an individual who had been left with severe spinal cord injuries due to a snowmobile accident with a Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) stimulator intended to treat pain. The device was used to stimulate the individual’s spinal cord, and over time, helped him regain the ability to move his legs.
Over time, the patient in the trial was able to sit up, stand and eventually take multiple steps with the help of a walker during stimulation, according to the Star Tribune report.
The results are joined by similar outcomes from other studies that show that there may be treatments possible for individuals with spinal injuries previously believed to be non-treatable.
“Research is suggesting that, no matter how far out the injury was, it doesn’t seem to matter,” Grahn said, according to the report.
Grahn told the Star Tribune that he had been motivated to research why spinal cord injuries are deemed “complete,” or non-recoverable, after suffering through his own life-changing spinal injury at 18.
“I still recall, early on after my injury, asking some of the medical people helping me, ‘Why does the spinal cord not recover or heart itself like a normal injury to your skin or something?’ They gave me basic answers that I could understand, but they also said it’s not totally understood. That sparked my interest,” Grahn told the paper.
Grahn was left with quadriplegia after sustaining injuries from diving into a shallow lake in 2005, just before he was set to leave to college. As an athlete, Grahn expected he would recover much of his physical capabilities as he had before with other injuries, but became depressed as the permanency of the situation set in, according to the Star Tribune report.
Only a year after the accident, Grahn enrolled in Southwest Minnesota State University with an interest in rehabilitation medicine. Mayo physician and researcher Dr. Anthony Windebank encouraged him to pursue a research program at the world-famous clinical, and Grahn eventually earned a doctorate in neuroscience and joined the Clinic in 2016, according to the report.
Research from Switzerland, released around the same time as the study from the Mayo Clinic, showed a similar case using a Medtronic stimulator, according to the Star Tribune.
Researchers in that study were able to show similar results, with patients able to regain mobility, but took the results a step further, as patients were able to walk even after the implant was shut off, according to the report.
Despite the optimistic outlook from the studies, Grahn told the Star Tribune that he tempers such hopes with the reality of his own experience, suggesting that hopes shouldn’t get too far ahead of actual results.
“I’ve been through enough of these – when these news pieces come out [promising cures] and then five years later it’s just five years down the road. I’m sensitive to the issues of giving false hope to the spinal cord community, even though hope is necessary,” Grahn told the paper.
Grahn and the research team at the Mayo Clinic are seeking additional funding to expand their work. So far, the team has worked with two individuals, though results on the second have not yet been released.