Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that brain activity of paralyzed patients can be improved by providing them training using robotic treadmill. This is believed to benefit a majority of patients who exhibit partial paralysis following spinal cord injury.
In the future, rehabilitation strategies could be individualized based on whether injured persons are capable of activating areas of brain crucial for locomotor function. Additionally, diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging can be used in predicting the outcome of a targeted treatment.
Several patients who were trained using the Robotic Treadmill reported a dramatic improvement in their mobility condition. Some of them were even able to walk using just a cane stick that was otherwise not possible.
The researchers analyzed the effectives of the robotic training in four patients affected by varying degrees of paralysis. The entire weight of the individual is being supported by the machine, which uses robotic devices to control the limb movements. Sensory signals are being sent by the device to the brain and spinal cord to control the body movements of the patient with regard to the machine. The patient can even visualize his/ her progress projected on a real time computer monitor.
Assessments done before and after the trial revealed a progress in completion of certain tasks such as flexion of ankles. An enhancement in the blood flow to the cerebellum was also evident from the images obtained through MRI. A certain threshold level of change was required in the cerebellum for an increased ability to walk.
The researchers have arrived at a conclusion that a cerebellum plays a significant role in locomotor recovery following spinal injury. More than 25 patients have been enrolled to test the effectiveness of the testing. The researchers further intend to use single positron emission computerized tomography (SPECT) to evaluate the blood flow to the brain.