With an implanted stimulator turned on, the man, Jered Chinnock, was able to step with a front-wheeled walker while trainers provided occasional assistance. He made 113 rehabilitation visits to Mayo Clinic over a year, and achieved milestones during individual sessions:
Total distance: 111 yards (102 meters) — about the length of a football field
Total number of steps: 331
Total minutes walking with assistance:16 minutes
Step speed: 13 yards per minute (0.20 meters per second)
“What this is teaching us is that those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis,” says Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D., co-principal investigator, neurosurgeon and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Laboratories.
In the study, Chinnock’s spinal cord was stimulated by an implanted electrode, enabling neurons to receive the signal that he wanted to stand or step.
“Now I think the real challenge starts, and that’s understanding how this happened, why it happened, and which patients will respond, says Kristin Zhao, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and director of Mayo Clinic’s Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory.
Currently, as a safety precaution, Chinnock takes steps only under the supervision of the research team.