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Walking again

High hopes are being raised by the STIMO project, which has enabled some paralysed persons to regain the use of their legs.

The announcement sounded out all over the world: in Lausanne, chronic paraplegics were able to walk again using crutches or a walker. "We’ve received countless invitations to speak at conferences since the publication of our research in Nature," says Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at CHUV and principal investigator of the STIMO (Stimulation Movement Overground) study, alongside Grégoire Courtine, neuroscientist at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Thousands of patients have also contacted us, but we have to explain that the treatment is not yet available for everyone."

How does it work? A device is implanted near the patient’s spinal cord and connected to a generator placed at the abdomen. Operated with a computer or tablet, the generator sends the implant electrical signals, which stimulate the nerves used to control the leg muscles. This electrical stimulation – which performs, in real time, the process normally carried out by the brain to activate the spinal cord – is the culmination of 15 years of research conducted by Grégoire Courtine and his team. More importantly, but unlike similar projects, patients in the STIMO project continue to recover neurological function outside training sessions, even without any electrical stimulation. "So far, seven patients have been operated on, and all are showing progress," Dr Bloch says. "This is only the beginning. We’re currently preparing STIMO 2, which will include about 20 acute patients, who will be treated just after their accident."

Source: In Vivo special edition (2019) / Photo: © EPFL, Jamani Caillet 

Project Ambassador (CHUV)

Prof Jocelyne Bloch

Senior Surgeon, Neurosurgery Service

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