Can deep brain stimulation or spinal cord stimulation improve spinal cord injury?

This is an exciting field of research.  I am lucky to be working as an academic consultant neurosurgeon in a University Hospital with an academic neurosurgeon colleague, Professor Marios Papadopoulos, an experienced general, complex spinal and vascular neurosurgeon whose current research is yielding fascinating insights into acute spinal cord injury (SCI) that may change its initial treatment and improve outcomes.

One of my research interests lies at the interface of spinal cord injury and neuromodulation with the question of whether brain computer interfaces can improve the disabling signs and symptoms of SCI.  We just published a review of the field:

Surgical Neurostimulation for Spinal Cord Injury.

SCI is a devastating neurological condition characterized by a constellation of symptoms including paralysis, paraesthesia, pain, cardiovascular, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction. Current treatment for SCI involves acute resuscitation, aggressive rehabilitation and symptomatic treatment for complications. Despite the progress in scientific understanding, regenerative therapies are lacking. In this review, we outline the current state and future potential of invasive and non-invasive neuromodulation strategies including deep brain stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, motor cortex stimulation, transcutaneous direct current stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in the context of SCI. We consider the ability of these therapies to address pain, altered sensation, weakness, blood pressure and bladder problems (autonomic dysregulation) associated with SCI. In addition to the potential to make important contributions to SCI treatment, neuromodulation has the added ability to contribute to our understanding of spinal cord neurobiology and the pathophysiology of SCI.

The prospect of using spinal cord stimulation to improve spinal cord injury is appealing as it is a procedure I already perform regularly to treat chronic pain when medicines don’t work.  Similarly, I do deep brain stimulation surgery frequently to treat Parkinson’s disease.  I also perform deep brain stimulation and motor cortex stimulation for chronic pain, but unfortunately these treatments are generally not NHS funded so I can only do the surgeries privately or internationally.

My own doctoral research during my neurosurgical training investigated the role of deep brain stimulation of a structure called the midbrain periaqueductal grey to relieve chronic pain, and its effect upon autonomic function, supervised by two established academic functional neurosurgeons at Oxford University, Mr. Alex Green and Prof. Tipu Aziz.  Modern biomedical science progresses through incremental discoveries building on a body of knowledge and expertise, rather than Eureka moments, so to investigate deep brain stimulation for SCI would be a natural continuation of that award winning research.