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Trials of ONWARD spinal cord therapy deliver early boost

One patient paralysed for years is now moving his arms and toes following ARC Therapy

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Trials of revolutionary ONWARD spinal cord therapy which is set to transform the lives of people living with paralysis are delivering strong early results, with reports of participants regaining movement in their arms and toes. 

ARC Therapy is being trialled in sites around the world, including in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) in a first-of-its-kind study in the UK. 

The treatment, developed by ONWARD, uses tiny non-invasive electric pulses to improve connections across the damaged area of the spinal cord, with the ambition of delivering life-changing outcomes through restoring limb function for people who are tetraplegic or paralysed from the neck down. 

The trials, part of the global Up-LIFT study run by ONWARD, are the latest step in the development of the ARC EX and ARC IM technologies, the first of which could be commercially available as early as 2023. 

Dr Mariel Purcell, consultant in spinal injuries at NHSGGC who is leading the study at the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, said: “This is a really exciting research project involving a piece of kit that is completely non-invasive.

“We’ve had a lot of interest – from patients and other spinal injuries clinics around the UK, and further afield. We’ve even been contacted by a patient from the south of England, who is prepared to relocate here just to take part in the study.”

Initial results are promising, says Dr Purcell, and are helping to show that the introduction of ARC Therapy earlier in a person’s rehabilitation could deliver significant benefits. 

“One patient who we have treated with the device was injured playing rugby at the age of 16 and had been completely paralysed from the neck down since,” she said. 

“After the treatment, he had no problems with bladder or temperature control, he could move his big toes, and he can use his arms enough to operate a mobile phone.”

The first half of the study involves eight weeks of intensive therapy to optimise upper limb movement and function. During the second phase of the study, participants will receive non-invasive stimulation of the spinal cord in addition to traditional upper limb therapy for a further eight weeks.

The ARC therapy device works by improving the connections between healthy areas by placing electrodes on the skin that activate the nerves below the level of the injury, making the body more receptive to hand and arm movements.

The aim of the treatment is to help people regain some use of their arms and hands, but it may also improve bladder and bowel function, along with blood pressure control and temperature regulation.

NHSGGC said the participants in the study have received all the rehabilitation and treatment currently available and are living as independently as they can. 

The study in Glasgow is recruiting participants until end of the year and it is hoped the final results of the study will be available later next year.

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