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Hope for spinal cord recovery

Scientists in Switzerland have restored full movement to rats paralysed by spinal cord injuries, opening the prospect of repairing the human spinal cord. The scientists used a cocktail of drugs and a program of electrical impulses to stimulate neurons in the spines of the paralysed rats, who were able to begin walking and running after just a couple of weeks of treatment.

17 Jun 2012

Scientists in Switzerland have restored full movement to rats paralysed by spinal cord injuries, opening the prospect of repairing the human spinal cord.

The scientists used a cocktail of drugs and a program of electrical impulses to stimulate neurons in the spines of the paralysed rats, who were able to begin walking and running after just a couple of weeks of treatment.

The treatment is the culmination of five years of investigation into how the brain and spine can adapt to injury. The combination of drugs and electrical stimulation strengthened the signals sent by the brain down the spinal cord.

“After a couple of weeks neurorehabilitation with a combination of a robotic harness and electrical-chemical stimulation, our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles,” Dr Gregoire Courtine from the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausann said.

“This is the world cup of neurorehabilitation – our rats have become athletes when just weeks before they were completely paralysed. I am talking about 100 per cent recuperation of voluntary movement.”

The treatment resulted in a fourfold increase in nerve fibres in the brain and spine.

Dr Courtine is optimistic that human trials will begin within the next two years.

KW


Published: 17 Jun 2012