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March 4, 1983

One small step for paraplegics, a giant leap for bioengineering

JAMA. 1983;249(9):1113-1114. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330330003001

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In what may be one of the most unusual spin-offs of antisubmarine warfare technology, investigators at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Michael Reese Medical Center are enabling paraplegics to walk again.

Daniel Graupé, PhD, professor of electrical engineering and head of the signal processing and biomedical systems laboratory at IIT, and Kate H. Kohn, MD, chair of the rehabilitation department at Michael Reese, have collaborated to make it possible for patients with complete transection of the spinal cord to sit, stand, and walk under their own control.

This seemingly impossible feat has been accomplished by capturing and interpreting myoelectric signals from above the level of the spinal cord injury and transmitting them to the paralyzed muscles below—in effect detouring around the lesion.

So far, in preliminary trials, the technique has been used successfully with five paraplegics—two in the United States and three in Israel. More patients, of course,