Training with brain-machine interfaces, visuotactile feedback and assisted locomotion improves sensorimotor, visceral, and psychological signs in chronic paraplegic patients
Spinal cord injury (SCI) induces severe deficiencies in sensory-motor and autonomic functions and has a significant negative impact on patients’ quality of life. There is currently no systematic rehabilitation technique assuring recovery of the neurological impairments caused by a complete SCI. Here, we report significant clinical improvement in a group of seven chronic SCI patients (six AIS A, one AIS B) following a 28-month, multi-step protocol that combined training with non-invasive brain-machine interfaces, visuo-tactile feedback and assisted locomotion. All patients recovered significant levels of nociceptive sensation below their original SCI (up to 16 dermatomes, average 11 dermatomes), voluntary motor functions (lower-limbs muscle contractions plus multi-joint movements) and partial sensory function for several modalities (proprioception, tactile, pressure, vibration). Patients also recovered partial intestinal, urinary and sexual functions. By the end of the protocol, all patients had their AIS classification upgraded (six from AIS A to C, one from B to C). These improvements translated into significant changes in the patients’ quality of life as measured by standardized psychological instruments. Reexamination of one patient that discontinued the protocol after 12 months of training showed that the 16-month break resulted in neurological stagnation and no reclassification. We suggest that our neurorehabilitation protocol, based uniquely on non-invasive technology (therefore necessitating no surgical operation),can become a promising therapy for patients diagnosed with severe paraplegia (AIS A, B), even at the chronic phase of their lesion.