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Spinal Cord Comeback

June 20, 2012

Researchers are using novel methods to make paralyzed rats walk again.



Paralyzed rats walk again…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Rats with severe spinal injuries regained the ability to walk, in groundbreaking experiments at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Neurobiologist Gregoire Courtine says the rats would never have regained movement through conventional therapies. But his team was able to re-activate the severed spines, using the type of input that intact spines get from the brain: a combination of chemical nerve transmitters and electrical stimulation.

GREGOIRE COURTINE (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland):

This means we tried to replace the missing input from the brain, in order to produce stepping.

With rigorous rehab, the rats were able to climb stairs, avoid obstacles, and even run towards a target.  As of now, this can only happen immediately after a chemical and electrical treatment.  But it’s a big step toward making it possible for severely injured humans to take steps again themselves. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

After several weeks of rehab with a robotic harness and electrical-chemical stimulation, previously paralyzed rats are now walking, sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles. (Image courtesy of EPFL)