Experimental device helping those with spinal cord injuries

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An experimental device is helping some people who have suffered a spinal cord injury. (WPVI)

An experimental device is helping some people who have suffered a spinal cord injury.

The goal isn't focused on standing or walking, but on everyday things like holding a cup or putting on socks.

Since breaking his neck in a dirt bike accident five years ago, Brian Gomez had very little use of his hands.

It's made running his coffee-roasting business a challenge.

But last summer, Gomez received a spinal stimulator being tested at UCLA Medical Center.

The complex, 32-electrode device trains the brain to find detours around the damage in the spinal cord, the same way drivers find detours to avoid a traffic jam.
"The spinal cord is a very plastic and very smart organ, the circuitry can be rewired," Dr. Daniel Lu said.

Only a few people have received the new stimulator, but all have regained some movement and strength.

Within two months, Gomez was able to use all 10 fingers.

"Meaning they can now use their hands for daily tasks like typing on a computer, using a phone; in Brian's case, grinding coffee beans," Dr. Lu said.
Gomez also has more strength to move his wheelchair, which means better health overall.

"Just having that much more stability, more core strength has been a game-changer in that alone," Gomez said.

Normally, it's hard to regain movement years after an injury.

But this device worked for Gomez, even five years after his accident.

The National Institutes of Health is also involved with this study.
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