Paralyzed Rats Taught to Walk Again

New treatment helps brain regain control over limbs
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2012 12:23 AM CDT
Updated Jun 3, 2012 7:08 AM CDT
A previously paralyzed rat in a special harness walks voluntarily after several weeks of rehabilitation in a laboratory in Switzerland.    (AP Photo/Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne)
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(Newser) – If results from new research involving rats can be replicated in humans, up to a third of America's wheelchairs may end up as scrap metal. Swiss scientists have taught rats with hind-leg paralysis caused by a spinal cord injury to walk and even run in just weeks, using a combination of electrical stimulation of the spine and physical training, reports the New York Times. The technique is an extension of earlier research, including that which helped a paralyzed Oregon man stand and move his legs.

The treatment resulted in an extensive rewiring of the brain and spinal cord, allowing the brain to re-establish control over the paralyzed limbs. The rats' spinal columns were cut without being severed, leaving some nerve connections intact, as is the case with up to a third of people with severe spinal injuries. The Swiss team is working on technology for human trials. The "very exciting" study is "a proof of principle for treating spinal cord injuries from a wide variety of conditions," says a University of California neurologist. "There’s a huge potential to refine this model to mimic more human-like conditions." (Read more spinal cord stories.)

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