We Were Wrong About Paralysis | Freethink Superhuman


Every day after a spinal cord injury is difficult. but this injury is more
disruption of communication than it is a complete
devastation of function. We really thought our brain just tells our
muscles what to do, right? Our spinal cord’s just a
conduit of information, but we’ve shown is that’s not the case. If we could put a stimulator in there, we can reverse the injuries
that we have to the spinal cord and get closer and closer to what you might end up calling a cure. – This number’s 215815. – On the thing you sent me was three. – Two to three, right? Okay, that’s fine. – It’s general practice right now where if you’re completely paralyzed, you don’t really get much rehab ’cause there’s no sense in doing it. We found that our
assumption is not accurate. I started in this area 25 years ago and we know in all other species that there is a set of networks in the spinal cord that
control locomotion. It’s not the brain, it’s the spinal cord, so the research question was, do humans have the
sophistication in these networks in the spinal cord? We did very meticulous,
tedious experiments and you could see locomotive
patterns in the spinal cord. We said okay, if we could activate people with complete spinal cord
injuries and see those patterns possibly we could get them
to take independent steps again. – Point three, okay,
work on that left leg. – Toe up, toe up, toe up, there
you go, little bit more. – So he’s actually receiving
stimulation through his epidural implant. The stimulation is raising the excitability
of the spinal cord and what the trainers are
doing is providing sensory cues that also the spinal cord
is able to interpret. So all that information is integrated and eventually the spinal
cord starts relearning and remembering all those
things that it was able to do prior to the injury. – This is the stimulator that we use. This flat portion is what we
call the paddle electrode, that’s the portion that goes
right on top of the spinal cord to activate the nerves. We make our incision
from the lower thoracic to the upper lumbar area. Generally spans about two vertebrae. Then we connect it to the battery. The current of the battery
is Bluetooth activated, so you can control the voltage,
the intensity of stimulation the battery then
sends electrical impulses to the electrode, which is sitting right on
top of the spinal cord. – Is that on two minutes or one minute? – Uh, two minutes. – All right, let’s go ahead
and put it on one minute. – Two on one. – We train people at
motor complete injuries, which mean you couldn’t detect
any signals from the brain and one of them was Jeff. – I got the implant about
four and a half years ago. I’ve really tried hard to not come
in with too many expectations ’cause when you first get injured and they kind of assess how injured you are and they pretty much say don’t expect to get
anything else from this, it’s a permanent injury. – Jeff had a very high spinal cord injury. So he has not only impairment of his legs, but his trunk and his arms and his hands. So what happened with the stimulator is he learned to walk over
ground, with only balance-assist. We were pretty surprised by that. He also has more strength
in his trunk, in his arms and in his hands, so that also shows us, that the whole circuitry
is being activated to contribute to this task of walking. – I’m not going to be able to do this. One, two. (grunting) Just got easier over time. The nervousness is gone. That level of confidence, just being able to do something as simple as stand up on my own is a big motivator to find out what else I can do. – And to your left and we can turnaround. My left.
-Yeah. – Try to step backwards. – The impact is tremendous, I
mean this is a game changer. It’s not just locomotion
that you can activate, but you can also reactivate bladder, bowel and blood pressure regulation. Once this has gotten into
the clinics and is used, it’s gonna be a significant impact in the health and quality of life of spinal cord injury patients. – It’s important to
understand that at this point it is really a research study, but people with motor complete injuries could be functionally better anywhere from 40 to 90-percent soon, like soon they can do that. So I think we really need to rethink how we’re providing care for people after spinal cord injury. We haven’t found anyone who actually has what has been thought of as a complete injury or
completely paralyzed. They can still recover. – Thanks for watching this
episode of Superhuman. If you like this video, please subscribe to our channel
for more Superhuman episodes and don’t forget to visit freethink.com for more stories of
people moving the world.

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