Veterans who have suffered spinal injuries or strokes causing hemiplegia may have good news coming soon. Many of those veterans are unable to walk or to control inner systems, such as cardiovascular and bladder functions. The engineering world has been working on technology involving robotic exoskeletons and epidural implants which might help. Recently, a VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, is testing a version of this tech using existing epidural implants, and the VA has been given a grant conduct the study. Discoveries from this study could mean this tech could be available to veterans with spinal cord injuries or strokes in the future as part of their veterans benefits. The veterans involved in this study could be helping all people with spinal cord injuries, as well as their fellow veterans.
Exoskeletons, despite sounding like the tech of science fiction, have been in use for a number of years to help individuals with spinal cord injuries walk. The first such device available in the US, made by a company called ReWalk (founded by a paraplegic), gained FDA approval in 2014. Since then, a number of other makers have developed their own versions using different methods with different goals. Some exoskeletons use weight shifting by the user to provide control and provide 100% assistance. Some are intended to help rehabilitate users and decrease their dependence on wheelchairs.
The new study at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, is attempting to see how well an epidural stimulator made by Medtronic for pain management can work on spinal cord injuries with these technologies and to demonstrate the promise of the technology. If the study shows success, the Veterans Health Administration - the nation's largest health care provider network - might be able to encourage Medtronic and other epidural implant manufacturers to develop implants with spinal cord injuries in mind.
If the study has good results, that would mean that a relatively easy non-invasive surgery to place these epidural implants could mean that individuals with these types of injuries would have ready access to a treatment that would enable them to use their own electrical signals to control their bodies again.
Thanks to the veterans who volunteered for this study.