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Brussels, 15 March 2000
Enabling a paraplegic to "Stand up and walk" : a European first
The Biomed 2 demonstration project Stand up and Walk is co-ordinated by Professor Pierre Rabischong, of the University of Montpellier. It began on 1 July 1996 as one of the first demonstration projects funded by the Commission in the 4th Framework Programme.
The initial aim of the "Stand up and walk" project is to devise a programme of partial restoration of the locomotion function in certain paraplegic patients. In practice, it consisted in implanting six patients from six European countries concurrently and then evaluating the outcome over a period of six months.
The only existing and realistic possibility of restoring the ability to walk consists in stimulating the sublesional muscles via an electric current, in order to trigger an artificial contraction of the muscle fibres. This stimulation could already be performed externally by the partners in the project (and by other teams), but this approach is very impractical.
A European clinical network, bringing together rehabilitation centres in several countries of the European Union, was established in 1992. Its role is to determine the clinical protocols corresponding to the five phases of the project: patient selection, presurgical exercise (to re-accustom the muscles to being stimulated), implantation in patients, post-surgical exercise et everyday use.
The demonstration project itself consisted in:
- building the implants (including fine tuning and encapsulation);
- designing a portable programming device which, attached to the belt of the patient, transmits instructions toward the implant.;
- selecting and preliminary training of the patients;
- the choice and fine tuning of the electrodes;
- preparing the operations;
- and finally implantation.
Status: The first implantation operation took place in December 1999 on a French patient based in Strasbourg, Mr. Marc Merger, had to be repeated in February 2000 due to an unforeseen technical problem that was since overcome.
Schedule. The project is currently behind schedule, which will not allow the implantation of all the patients as initially planned, and will shorten the evaluation phase. This type of delay is frequent in demonstration projects where, despite the fact that the bulk of the research has been done previously, the time needed to overcome unforeseen technical difficulties remains difficult to evaluate.
The partners. Two of the partners are based in Montpellier: the University of Montpellier and Neuromedics, a start-up company established in connection with the project and led by a former IBM engineer, Mr. Bernard Denis. Industrial participation is strong, with IBM-France, Thomson (FR) et Roessingh (NL). The Fraunhofer Institut of St Ingbert (DE) is the other academic partner. La European dimension is very present, through the CALIES network [a non-profit organisation] of rehabilitation centres, established for an earlier EUREKA project and still active, which brings together six teams [patients, doctors, surgeons, physiotherapists] from six countries.
The limits of the project: It is important to have some restrain in the message that is delivered to outside audiences. Such a project is likely to generate huge expectations and hopes among the handicapped. It is important to emphasise the limits of the project and of the technology involved and to note the following facts:
- All paraplegics will not be able to recover the ability to walk through this technology which is only applicable to certain types of paralysis;
- Even patients who are successfully implanted will continue to spend most of their life in a wheelchair;
- Currently, it does not result in an elegant walk and crutches are still needed. A few more years of development are likely to be needed before a patient can walk up stairs;
- The cost of such a technology will probably remain high and it is unlikely that a social security system would accept to reimburse it.
Université de Montpellier 1
Laboratoire d'Anatomie et de Biomécanique Humaine - Faculté de Médecine
Prof. Pierre Rabischong
Rue Ecole de Médecine 2
FR - 34000 Montpellier
Tel. +33 4 67633798 - Fax. +33 4 67542729
Other partners in the SUAW project
European Calies Association
Prof. Jack Edwards
Tel. +44-161 295 22 941
Roessingh Research and Development
MR. Hermanus Jacobus HERMENS
NL - 7500 AH Enschede
Tel. +31534875777 - Fax. +31534340849
Prof. J.-UWE MEYER
Ensheimer Strasse 48
D-66386 St. Ingbert
Tel. +49 6894/9800
Fax. +49 6894/980400
e-mail : email@example.com
MR. Gérard AUGER
Rue du Fossé-Blanc 66
FR - 92231 Gennevilliers
Tel. +33146132331 - Fax. +33146132501
IBM France SA
MR. Jacques BONNET
Boulevard John Kennedy 224
FR - 91105 Corbeil Essonnes
Tel. +33160885888 - Fax. +33160884920
MR. Bernard DENIS
Parc du Millenaire 12
FR - 34036 Montpellier
Tel. +3367653974 - Fax. +3367651109
e-mail : Neuromedi@aol.com
Innovation in EUROPA - Research & Results
PRESS RELEASE | 21.03.2000