People in Massachusetts that have suffered a spinal cord injury may already be aware of some new and potentially promising research. Scientists have found that rats with spinal cord injuries can regain mobility that is nearly normal through the application of electrical impulses in certain parts of the brain. If perfected, this "deep brain stimulation" could give certain patients the ability to do something they may not have done for a long time -- walk.
Patients that may benefit from such a treatment would still have to have at least some of the spinal cord nerves still intact and medullary reticulospinal fibers, the fibers that connect the legs to the upper part of the spinal cord. In rats, the lowest percentage of intact spinal cord nerves that allow for almost normal mobility is 12 to 25 percent. With only 2.5 to 11 percent of the spinal cord nerves, the rats were able to move their legs, but only in water where they were not weight bearing.
There would have to be some sort of consistent stimulation to the locomotion center of the tegmentum of the mid-brain. This part of the brain exists in most every living thing from fish all the way up to humans and is used to start and maintain motion. This nerve cluster run from just in front of the cerebellum to the peak of the stem of the brain.
If scientists are able to perfect such a treatment, many people with spinal cord injuries could walk again. The implant procedure may be costly, but in the end, it might be cheaper than the care and treatment currently needed by people with these injuries. For patients who suffered their injuries through the negligence of another, a successful personal injury claim in Massachusetts could provide the monetary relief needed to cover any treatment in the future.
Source: Los Angeles Times, A pacemaker in the brain for spinal cord injury?, Melissa Healy, Oct. 24, 2013