The joining of forces to make technology accessible to all, developed by the researchers Grégoire Courtine and Jocelyne Bloch (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL), who in 2018 made it possible for three paraplegics to get up from their wheelchairs and take several steps unaided – this is the story of a major scientific (as well as human) achievement told in the journal Nature and celebrated the world over. In order to repeat and expand this success further, the NeuroRestore consortium has been created in Lausanne. This consortium, which unites the EPFL, the University Hospital and the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University, was set up with the financial support of the Defitech Foundation (created by Daniel and Sylviane Borel, the founders of Logitech).
Courtine (a very well-known researcher in the field of experimental neuroscience) and Jocelyne Bloch (a neurosurgeon who has been involved in state-of-the-art techniques for years) will of course be the directors of NeuroRestore. In 2018 they achieved their “miracle” using a system known as STIMO (i.e. STImulation Movement Overground), which – in a very complex manner – combines the electrical stimulation of the spinal cord (using special electrodes) with a series of intelligent movement sensors. The impulses, timed using a pacemaker, enable the muscles to contract and maintain the right “rhythm” to make walking possible (or, at least, a start to be made). Thanks to STIMO, one of the people involved in the experiment in particular, David Mzee, who suffered serious damage to his spinal cord, was able to walk again, without assistance, after several months of practice.
Now, in the NeuroStore project, Courtine and Bloch will embark upon a new series of initiatives and research to speed up studies and to develop a shared protocol that can be applied to whoever needs it as soon as possible. However, their ambition is also to develop new neuro-surgical treatments for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or neurological disorders caused by strokes or head injuries.
In addition to the four founding bodies of NeuroStore, the project will also involve the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering (at the Biotech Campus in Geneva) and other bodies. In the following months a clinical study, called STIMO-2, will be getting underway, to treat up to 20 paraplegic patients with recent damage to the spinal cord (the first STIMO study, on the other hand, was targeted at people that had sustained a spinal cord injury more than three years ago). This will be a multi-center experiment that will be conducted in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. More information can be found on the NeuroStore website.