V. Reggie Edgerton, UCLA distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology; Yury Gerasimenko, professor and director of the laboratory of movement physiology at St. Petersburg's Pavlov Institute and a researcher in UCLA’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology; and colleagues have been awarded a Popular Mechanics' 2011 Breakthrough Award for developing "an electric therapy that stimulates spinal nerves, allowing the paralyzed to walk." Edgerton, Gerasimenko and their UCLA colleagues have been studying the effects of electrical stimulation on the spinal cord for more than 30 years.
The annual Breakthrough Awards recognize the innovators and products that dramatically advanced such fields as science, technology and medicine. Popular Mechanics honored this "scientific dream team" for successfully performing the procedure on patient Rob Summers, a paralyzed volunteer who suffered a spinal cord injury from a hit-and-run accident in 2006. Epidural stimulation enabled Summers to stand and voluntarily move his toes, ankles, knees and hips on command.
The "brilliant innovators" who achieved "true game-changers" were featured in the November issue of Popular Mechanics, established in 1902. The team includes Susan Harkema, professor of neurological surgery at the University of Louisville and director of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network, which translates scientific advances into activity-based rehabilitation treatments; and Joel Burdick, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology.
"Our team is very pleased that the recently reported results describing levels of functional recovery not previously observed in an individual with complete motor paralysis is being recognized by a magazine of such distinction and prestige as Popular Mechanics," Edgerton said. "This magazine has pointed toward futuristic directions in science and engineering for many years and we are proud to be a part of that tradition. While our recent accomplishments are viewed as a breakthrough, we have had a large number of scientists in our lab that have played key roles, particularly in animal experiments, that led up to the recent publication involving a human subject. Since they are not officially listed as awardees, but played such key roles, I would like to recognize Drs. Roland Roy, Niranjala Tilakaratne and Jung Kim for their amazing work."
"The Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award is a great honor," Gerasimenko said. "In the studies performed on Rob, we accumulated our knowledge about posture and locomotion regulation obtained in numerous experiments carried out on animals, using of epidural spinal cord stimulation. I am really happy that we demonstrated that the human spinal cord isolated from brain control can be re-animated by epidural spinal cord stimulation to recovery of locomotor functions and to provide voluntary control."