Experimental spinal stimulator helps restore hand movement for quadriplegics

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (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 5 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 that can be, the circuitry can be rewired," says Dr. Daniel Lu, the UCLA doctor leading the research.

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

Within 2 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, you know, in Brian's case, grinding coffee beans," says Dr. Lu.

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," says Gomez.

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

But this device worked for Gomez, even 5 years after his accident.

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