An experimental treatment, developed at UBC, that sends electrical currents through the spinal cord has improved “invisible” yet debilitating side effects for a B.C. man with a spinal cord injury.—Image: contributed

UBC research helps with spinal cord injury

Electrical implant could improve daily activities for people with spinal cord injuries: Study

An experimental treatment that sends electrical currents through the spinal cord has improved “invisible” yet debilitating side effects for a B.C. man with a spinal cord injury.

A diving accident six years ago left Isaac Darrel, of Langley, British Columbia, with a spinal cord injury. Side effects of the injury include dizziness, fluctuations in blood pressure and changes in bladder and bowel function.

Darrel made the decision to have electrodes surgically implanted over his spinal cord in 2016 to test out a treatment known as epidural stimulation in the hopes of improving some of the side effects. A case study about his experiences was published today in JAMA Neurology.

“Mobility issues or paralysis are the most visible consequences of a spinal cord injury but as a clinician, I know that many of my patients suffer from other ‘invisible’ consequences,” said Dr. Andrei Krassioukov, principal investigator of the study who worked with Darrel for a number of years as a professor of medicine at UBC and chair in rehabilitation research with ICORD, a Vancouver research centre focused on spinal cord injuries.

“Many of my patients have abnormal blood pressure and bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunctions that can be quite devastating.”

Epidural stimulation involves surgically inserting electrodes permanently above the spinal cord and then stimulating the nerve cells in the spinal cord with electrical currents. The therapeutic benefits of epidural stimulation have been well-documented for chronic back pain, but a small number of experimental trials are testing the treatment on people with spinal cord injuries.

With a remote control, Darrel uses the stimulator for up to 45 minutes each day, applying different programs to transmit electrical impulses into his spinal cord that mimic the same signals that would come from the brain. The programs are designed to stimulate specific nerves that help with various motor functions, but Darrel and Krassioukov have observed other positive changes.

Before the treatment, Darrel said he often felt light-headed, especially when he moved from his bed to his wheelchair or during exercise, and his blood pressure would drop.

“My blood pressure would tank right down into the 60s,” said Darrel, who describes feeling nauseous and like the world was spinning. “I would pass out or black out sitting in my chair sometimes. Now, since I have the implant, I’m able to turn up the stimulation enough that it makes it impossible for me to black out.”

The symptoms Darrel experienced are part of a disorder known as orthostatic hypotension, resulting from poor cardiovascular function. Since the surgery, a team of researchers at ICORD have been following Darrel’s case and running tests to determine how his cardiovascular function has changed. Using something called a tilt table, they put patients into an upright position to see if they are able to maintain their blood pressure.

“If there is no drop in arterial blood pressure, it is considered normal,” said Dr. Krassioukov. “It means the person has good control of blood vessels in their lower extremities and the abdomen.”

The stimulator has improved Darrel’s ability to control his blood pressure as well as other benefits.

“I’ve had better blood pressure, better core muscle, much improved bowel function, and basically I have more energy,” said Darrel, who noted that this means he can now sit in his wheelchair for up to eight hours, a big improvement from the two hours he could endure prior to the surgery.

The results point to the need to fully understand how this treatment could be used in clinical settings. Krassioukov and his colleagues are currently collaborating with colleagues in the U.S. on a larger trial, examining the benefits of epidural stimulation on a bigger group. They are also involved in research on a similar but non-invasive version of the treatment that involves stimulating the spinal cord with a device positioned on top of the skin at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“We see very interesting and exciting results but as a clinician-scientist, I need more robust data before I would recommend this procedure,” he said.

The research was conducted by ICORD investigators and UBC professors Christopher West and Tania Lam, postdoctoral fellows Alex Williams and Matthias Walter, graduate student Jordan Squair and Aaron Phillips, assistant professor University of Calgary. The research was funded by the Rick Hansen Institute.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@KelownaCapNews
newstips@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Have you seen Peter Webb?

Fifty-two-year-old man reported missing by family who last saw him July 9

UPDATE: 14-year-old pilot sets Guinness World Record at Langley airport

Mohd Shaikhsorab believes he is now the youngest pilot with the fewest hours logged to fly solo

Plenty of heroes in Thai cave rescue, says Langley diver

Erik Brown reflects on team effort that brought 12 boys and their coach to safety

Elvis sighted in Aldergrove

Live concerts set for Langley Cruise-In on Sept. 8

Township announces new Korean War memorial

A memorial stone from South Korea’s Gapyeong region will be installed at Derek Doubleday Arboretum

Through your lens: Okanagan wildfires

Check out some of the captivating images and video from social media of the wildfires

World’s translators push back on forcing Trump interpreter to testify

Democrats had asked translator to testify about Trump’s lengthy conversation with Putin in Helsinki

No decision on B.C. school stabbing suspect’s mental fitness for trial

The BC Review Board could not determine whether Gabriel Klein, 21, is fit to stand trial

Canadian government threatens to retaliate if Trump imposes auto tariffs

U.S president had suggested that auto imports pose a national security risk to the U.S.

Abbotsford’s Besse sisters: Vaulting to greatness at Summer Games

Local siblings heading to Cowichan to compete in equestrian

Wildfire evacuation order forces bride to search for new wedding venue

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards is under an order due to the Mount Eneas wildfire south of Peachland

Recent online kitten abuse video raises serious social media questions

UBC and UFV profs weigh in on the subject of online sharing, shaming, and our digital landscape

UPDATED: ICBC fights back against claims that it’s ‘ripping off’ B.C. RV drivers

Canadian Taxpayers Federation is urging the provincial government to open up ICBC to competition

Summerland issues State of Local Emergency in response to wildfire

Two homes under evacuation order; evacuation alert remains in place as result of wildfire

Most Read