By Sammi Taylor • 60 Minutes Digital Producer9:00am Apr 14, 2019
While training at the gym one day, David Mzee attempted a simple somersault. It was a trick he’d done many times before, but on this occasion, something went terribly wrong. And in an instant, his life changed forever.
One wrong move ended in a severe spinal cord injury for David. He became a paraplegic.
“When I tried to move my arms they didn’t move. I tried to move my legs, they didn’t move,” David tells 60 Minutes reporter Charles Wooley.
“I had difficulty breathing and I panicked.”
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But an extraordinary medical trial has now made the impossible possible, David Mzee is learning to walk again.
The revolutionary breakthrough is being led in Switzerland by Associate Professor Gregoire Courtine, who started his research by implanting electrodes in the spines of injured rats to see if they could move again.
When those results showed promise, the trial progressed to humans, including David Mzee. Within a few weeks of epidural stimulation, David began to regain a sense of movement in his toes.
“It was a fantastic feeling,” he tells Wooley.
Now after months of training, David can walk a few steps completely unaided – without physical support or electronic stimulation.
His progress is proof that even after serious physical trauma, the spinal cord can communicate with the brain, and the nerves that help us walk can regrow and recover.
Professor Courtine’s work is based in Switzerland, but it’s likely to lead to life-changing benefits for spinal cord patients all over the world, including Australia.
Professor Courtine’s work in Switzerland comes after significant studies conducted at the University of California Los Angeles, with Professor Reggie Edgerton.
Already local researchers are planning to conduct research here using the same technology.
Australian medical researcher, Professor Bryce Vissel, hopes to be at the forefront of finding a cure for spinal cord injury patients in Australia.
“This is the industrial revolution of science,” Professor Vissel says.
“We are in the phase of curing illnesses, curing injuries, curing brain diseases that have been thought irrecoverable.”
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019