As a young boy, Dr. Reggie Edgerton was touched by disability. He himself had polio when he was a child, and till this day his left hand is slightly smaller. Going through this experience had a profound effect on Dr. Edgerton, and no doubt is one of the reasons he’s been obsessed with understanding how neural networks work in the spinal cord control movement for nearly 40 years.
And the best part, he has more hope for SCI research than ever before. With his research program funded by both the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation and the NIH (the National Institutes of Health) his research team has made groundbreaking discoveries in the realm of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord.
To learn how this North Carolina boy ended up making miracles come true in a research facility in California, read on for the passionate story of this talented spinal cord injury researcher.
Why he’s fearless
At almost 75 years old, Dr. Edgerton has been in the game for a long time. He first got his BS degree from East Carolina University, and next headed to Michigan State University to receive his PhD in Exercise Physiology. A former swim coach, researching how the spinal cord works and getting muscles to move again was never his original goal.
After graduation he became a professor of kinesiology at UCLA, a job he thoroughly enjoyed but while on sabbatical one summer in Sweden, where he met famed neurophysicist Sten Grillner (who was studying the locomotion of cats who had their spinal cord severed at birth) he was enthralled. Meeting Grillner had a profound effect on Edgerton. He saw that the cats, when placed on a moving treadmill and given a dose of medicine called L-Dopa, could walk.
Even though Grillner was never able to replicate these results in humans, Edgerton was so inspired that he went back to UCLA to study the very same thing. It may have taken decades, but Dr. Edgerton is finally seeing results in humans from his many years of dedication. Amassing research money has not been easy over the years for Edgerton since many believed his theory of retraining the spinal cord was hogwash, but he never let that stop him.
In 2011, along with other noted SCI researcher (and one of our previous SCI Superstars) Dr. Susan Harkema, he finally saw some of the first a real evidence that they were on the right track – they were able to get Rob Summers, a man who had been paralyzed for six years prior, to stand on his own again.
He and his team implanted a device inside of Summers that reads his brain signals, and then send them to his muscles using simulators. For anyone who’s been paralyzed from several years, just the possibility of being able to do this again is huge, and they are helping several young men with paraplegia stand, and feel more all over the bodies, including getting some sexual function back as well.
Dr. Edgerton’s research is more active than ever before. He now has his own research facility at UCLA called the Edgerton Neuromuscular Research Laboratory where he has nine other researchers working alongside him, and he is on the official board for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. 34 more people are slated to undergo the same procedure as Summers in the next 2 years.
Edgerton also hopes to add their first female patient to the study, which many have been wanting to see. One of the biggest breakthroughs in SCI research yet, this “Big Idea” as dubbed by the Reeve Foundation certainly is that, and we can thank Reggie Edgerton for bringing it to the States.
Do you think Edgerton’s SCI treatment will prove the best one yet?
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