Photo: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Scientists have a breakthrough in spinal injury research: they were able to teach paralyzed rats with spinal cord injury to walk again after electrical stimulation of the brain and spine.
Benedict Carey of The New York Times explains:
In the study, a research team led by Grégoire Courtine of the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, known as EPFL, gave a group of 10 rats the same surgical injury, cutting all direct nerve connections to the hind legs but stopping short of severing the spinal cord. The rats lost the use of their hind legs, but not their front legs.
The rats then began a daily regimen. Outfitted with tiny vests, held upright on their back legs but left to bear their full weight, the rats tried to move toward a piece of cheese that beckoned nearby. They lurched forward like furry paratroopers, unsteady on their feet after a hard landing.
The scientists provided stimulation in three places: electrically, in the motor area of the brain and in the spinal cord below the injury, and chemically, infusing the wound area with drugs thought to promote growth.
And growth is what they got. After two to three weeks of 30-minute daily sessions, the rats began to take their first voluntary steps. After six weeks, all of the rats could walk on their own, and some could run and climb stairs.