After a car accident, Rob Summers was paralysed from the chest down and had no voluntary control of his legs. But now, thanks to a pioneering treatment developed by Susan Harkema from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and her team, he is able to push himself up to standing position, stay upright for several minutes, take a few steps when assisted and move limbs in his lower body. (see video above).
The treatment combined spinal cord stimulation with two years of physiotherapy, which involved retraining neural networks that produce muscle movements needed to stand and walk. After the training, a device was implanted in his back, allowing researchers to stimulate his lower spinal cord by mimicking signals the brain normally sends to initiate movement. The impulses, as well as sensory information from his legs, triggered his own neural network to direct his muscles and joints to move.