Christopher Reeve: Son Announces ‘Incredible Progress’ In Spinal Cord Injury Research And Technologies

Sean Mahoney - Author

Nov. 20 2017, Updated 1:53 a.m. ET

Christopher Reeve’s son, Matthew Reeve, has continued the work that his father inspired, searching for answers to irreparable spinal cord injuries. A 1995 horse riding accident left Christopher Reeve paralyzed from the neck down and, along with his wife, Dana Reeve, and countless members, researchers, sponsors, and donors to the Christopher Reeve Foundation (now the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation), the gifted actor spearheaded research into curing spinal cord injuries until his 2004 death.

Yahoo News reports that the efforts to help those paralyzed by spinal cord injuries have come a long way since Christopher Reeve’s passing. Though far from a literal cure, the research has led to many break throughs that would make his dad “excited,” said Matthew Reeve.

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“When my father was first injured almost 20 years ago, spinal cord injury research was considered a dead end. Since then, we’ve made incredible progress.”

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Much of this progress has been on the technological side, with devices and therapies that can help the paralyzed to move and function once again. These include spine stimulation, brain-computer interfaces, and exoskeletons.

On the spine stimulation front, a technology called epidural spine stimulation has been very successful in restoring movement to four paralyzed people who were part of a pilot trial, all having suffered spinal cord injuries where the nerves to their muscles were severed.

Matthew Reeve explained to Live Science that the device “reawakens the spinal cord and reminds of its potential. Right now, it’s the most promising therapy today.”

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Among those who have benefitted from spine stimulation therapy is Kent Stephenson, a Texan who was paralyzed in a Motocross accident. He suffered a complete motor and spinal cord injury that left him with no ability to move or feel anything below his waist.

“When I came out of the hospital, they basically gave me a bag of medicine, a stretching routine and a wheelchair, and that was it,” said Stephenson. But having the spinal stimulation device has “(given) me the ability to take a step forward and overcome my paralysis.”

Given this success, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation has now announced a new campaign, called The Big Idea, which aims to raise $15 million dollars in an effort to involve 36 others who have suffered spinal cord injuries in the clinical trial of the device.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have also come a long way in the 10 years since Christopher Reeve’s passing. Linking the brain to a computer or external prosthetic limb was showing promise by the early 2000s, when researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh University developed a system that a monkey used to control a prosthetic limb with its mind.

By 2005, researchers at Brown University equipped a human patient, who was paralyzed from the neck down, with a similar system. This patient moved a cursor on a computer screen, opened and closed a prosthetic arm, and opened the way for several more paralyzed patients to test the system, leading one of them to be able to operate a prosthetic arm to take a drink in 2012.

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Exoskeltons are also promising hope for the spinal cord injured, with advancements in motor, battery, and sensor technology bringing ideas that have been around for decades closer to reality.

The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL), developed in Japan, was certified by the European Commission for use in Europe in August 2013, becoming the world’s first certified medical treatment robot.

Matthew Reeve was a teenager when his father Christopher Reeve, the six foot four, very athletic image of Superman, was injured, and Matthew recalls discussions about the latest research into dealing with spinal cord injuries being a common topic around the dinner table, according to People.

“It was a big part of all of our lives,” Matthew Reeve says of himself and his siblings, all of whom are involved with supporting the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. “It’s a huge honor to continue the work he started. I don’t come close to being as effective as he was, in terms of raising money and increasing awareness and his advocacy efforts, but it’s a cause that’s close to my heart… We’re one step closer to (Christopher Reeve’s) vision of a world of empty wheelchairs.”

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