It is unimaginable that people who are paraplegic after a back injury can walk again independently. The connection to the brain in the area of the spinal cord is destroyed, and even intensive rehabilitation treatment cannot give patients back conscious control over their muscles. The University École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne now reports on three male patients with "discomplete" paraplegia. Although their motor neurons - which control muscles - were destroyed, other nerve cords could be preserved. A so-called neurostimulator was surgically implanted in the men's spinal canal. It consists of 16 electrodes that electrically stimulate the spinal cord in the lower back. Supported by an intelligent body weight support system, the wheelchair patients quickly learned to use their muscles in a controlled manner with the help of the neurostimulator. After some time, they were even able to move independently on level ground using crutches or a walker. However, rehabilitation experts advise against raising hopes prematurely: The results are still far from being transferable to clinical routine, and future studies will have to wait. www.epfl.ch

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