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Promising new technique helps people with paralysis

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -

In a new study released Tuesday in the journal Brain, researchers demonstrate a promising new technique that will help people with paralysis.

Dustin Shillcox is paralyzed from the chest down. Moving his legs is out of the question. Or was.

Susan Harkema, a neuroscientist at the University of Louisville, has been working with Shillcox.

Doctors have implanted a device that sends electrical stimulation to his spine. When he turns it on, he can move on demand.

When the stimulator is turned off, he is unable to even sit up. His torso muscles don’t work.

When the stimulator is on, Shillcox can sit up without any support at all.

“The first time I turned it on it was exciting and emotional for me at the same time,” he said. “Emotional because I was told that I’d never be able to walk or move my legs again.”

Shillcox is one of four patients in the new study that was published Tuesday.

Despite the patients’ gains, none are able to walk on their own. The device only works when activating one leg at a time.

This is not the first example of electrical stimulation helping paralyzed patients, but experts say this technique may become another tool in the toolbox.

"I think what's incredibly exciting is we've opened up a realm of possibilities of what we can do now with people who are paralyzed and we've just scratched the surface," Harkema said.


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