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University of Minnesota researchers make possible breakthrough in paralysis treatment

They've been able to restore some function in patients with devastating spinal cord injuries.

The University of Minnesota's Medical School says it has made a breakthrough in restoring some bodily functions in people who have been dealing with severe paralysis for years.

Previously, it's been possible to restore some level of function in young and healthy patients who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury within a few years of it happening.

But as part of the E-STAND clinical trial, Dr. David Darrow, a neurosurgery resident at the medical school and Hennepin Healthcare, broadened the scope of patients who can qualify for epidural spinal cord stimulation (ESCS).

Darrow and his team were able to restore some automatic movements and voluntary functions without any significant rehabilitation.

They implanted the stimulators in two women aged 48 and 52 who had no lower bodily function at all, having suffered traumatic spinal injuries 5 and 10 years earlier, respectively, that left them with little residual spinal cord.

Through the treatment, both women showed signs of some of their bowel/bladder functions being restored, with one of them able to urinate voluntarily. One of the women was able to achieve orgasm for the first time since her injury, a sign that sexual function was recovering.

One of the women also saw improvement in cardiovascular function.

There was even some "voluntary extremity movement," namely the movement in their paralyzed legs.

What's more, out of the 7 patients operated on as part of the study, all but one of them has been able to move their legs, one of whom had been paralyzed for 17 years.

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"We believe that we are studying a population that is much closer to the general population of patients with spinal cord injury," said Dr. Darrow. "We have opened the doors to so many more patients with traumatic spinal cord injury."

"Enabling someone to move her legs ... after being paralyzed from spinal cord injury has been one of the greatest moments of my career," said Dr. Uzma Samadani, who is an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the U of M Medical School, and a neurosurgeon with Hennepin Healthcare

The U of M notes that there are around 290,000 people living in the U.S. with a spinal cord injury.

Dr. Ann Parr, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the U of M Medical School said that there is "still a lot of research to be done," but added that they are "excited for all this could mean for patients."

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