A former Irish athlete with chronic, complete paralysis with the help of a robotic device and a novel non-invasive spinal stimulation technique that does not require surgery, has regained voluntary control in his leg muscles.
Thirty-nine-year-old Mark Pollock, who had been completely paralyzed for four years, is the first person with complete paralysis to regain enough voluntary control to actively work with a robotic device designed to enhance mobility, said University of California, Los Angeles in the US.
His leg movements also resulted in other health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function and muscle tone. The new approach combines a battery-powered wearable bionic suit that enables people to move their legs in a step-like fashion.
Pollock, who lost his sight in 1998, later became the first blind man to race to the South Pole. In 2010, Pollock fell from a second-story window and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
At UCLA, Pollock made substantial progress after receiving a few weeks of physical training without spinal stimulation and then just five days of spinal stimulation training in a one-week span, for about an hour a day.
"It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they do not accomplish that, the fact they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life," said senior author of the research V Reggie Edgerton, distinguished professor at UCLA.