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Paralysed individuals gear up to compete using their own leg power

14 September 2005

Efforts to help paralysed athletes one day compete in para-sporting events using the power of their legs begin this week (Tuesday 13 September) with a unique sports day coordinated by Professor Nick Donaldson of UCL (University College London).

Functional Electrical Stimulation ( FES ) - the artificial activation of paralysed muscle – will power the legs of cyclists and rowers as they compete in the first ever FES sports day. If the event proves successful, Professor Donaldson plans to host an international tournament next year.

People with spinal cord injury suffer ill-health because of the paralysis following their nerve damage, which can lead to wasted muscles, weak bones, heart disease, pressure sores, poor self-image and depression. Exercising the leg muscles by FES can reduce these effects and from next year equipment will be commercially available to help them do so.

Plans are also underway to create the first FES sports centre at UCL, offering a support service and catalyst to encourage new users to take up FES cycling. Researchers are keen to expand use from the eight individuals currently trialling the equipment and encourage the fun aspect of the technology, where people can enjoy it as an outdoor sport or recreation rather than just a rehabilitation exercise.

Currently, 50,000 people in the UK have spinal cord injuries and according to Professor Donaldson, a leading expert in FES , up to half could benefit from the new technology. It could also aid the rehabilitation of individuals that have suffered a stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or brain injury.

The sports day brings together seven people with spinal cord injury from two research groups: at Glasgow University and in London (UCL and King's College London) who are training for FES-cycling on recumbent tricycles in a scientific project. Two individuals who have been using FES for longer, both cycling and rowing, will also attend the event.

In FES-cycling, paralysed muscles are stimulated by passing short pulses of current through electrodes on the skin, which activates the muscles and moves the legs. A stimulator synchronizes the stimulation with the pedal position while the user has a ‘throttle' to control how much stimulation is applied - rather like a motor bike with the legs as the engine.

There will also be a demonstration of FES-rowing (at present on a rowing machine) which has been developed by Professor Brian Andrews and colleagues at Brunel University .

Journalists are invited to watch participants compete, interview users about their experience, and speak to researchers and clinicians about the technology.

For further information or to register to attend, please contact:

Judith H Moore, UCL Media Relations Manager, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7679 7678 (int: 07678), Mobile : +44 (0)77333 075 96 Email: judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk