A small number of patients, all paralysed from the waist down, have regained the ability to walk after the implantation of an electrical patch.
Two separate groups of scientists from the University of Louisville and the Mayo Clinic released their findings in a new study. Three out of five patients receiving the treatment regained some form of movement in their legs and have also gained the ability to voluntarily stimulate self-controlled movements. Through the implantation of an electrode, signals through the damaged spine are boosted which helps the participants to stimulate movement.
For many the electrical patch is prohibitively expensive and unreliable beyond a lab setting, the average price of installing the electrical patch in the US is around $32,000, and the annual maintenance around $5000. Additionally, the batteries for the electric patch must be typically replaced every 2 to 5 years.
Currently all spinal cord stimulators approved in the UK come from two major manufacturing companies – Medtronic Ltd. and Advanced Neuromodulation Systems, UK Ltd. Until the release of the study, spinal cord stimulators (SCS) have been mainly used in the treatment of chronic pain. However, since the trials have found SCS to be effective in the treatment of spinal damage, more investment can be expected into this market. The US market for SCS was worth $1.7 billion last year; this is now expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2019 as new companies enter the market and develop more effective systems.
The electrical patch is a promising start in the treatment of paralysis but there is still a long way until a permanent solution is found. As technology continues to improve there is hope for improved innovations in this field. There are plans for larger trials to take place in Europe and the USA in 3 years time.