Neuroscientists working with rats have pulled off a feat raising hopes that paralyzed people might someday be able to regain control of their bladders and ditch the catheter. The scientists grafted nerves from elsewhere in the rats' bodies to their severed spinal cords, and the rats eventually were able to pee again almost as well as healthy rats, reports Science News. The rats were not able to walk again, and while they didn't regain full control of their bladders, the study is still "an astonishing breakthrough for the field," writes Liat Clark at Wired.
Any similar research on humans is still years away because the results must first be replicated on animals bigger than rats, reports the BBC. Previous attempts to regenerate nerves on damaged spinal cords were stymied by scar tissue at the site of the original injury. The scientists were able to overcome that by using an enzyme to break down the scar tissue, in tandem with a growth factor that helped the transplanted nerves grow. "This is one of the most important steps that I have seen in recent years,” says an Oslo neuroscientist not involved with the study. (Read more rats stories.)