Scientists Make Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles have been able to return function to paralyzed rats using a combination of exercise, drugs and electrical stimulation. The study has important implications for future rehabilitation of humans with spinal cord injuries.
The findings are published in the online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience. The study suggest movement can be restored without restoring connection between the damaged nerves and the brain - the body can instead be "tricked" into working by stimulating the limbs using electrical impulses as well as stem cells. Similar findings have previously been reported, but this is the first time the lab rats were able to support their entire body weight while walking and running.
The rats were given quipazine, a drug that acts on the serotonin in their brains, as well as low-current electric shocks to the damaged areas of the spine. The therapy didn't repair the damaged nerves, but instead simulated movement that resembled walking. It is thought that this method could be used to construct devices that help paralyzed humans simulate limb movement in the future.
Lead researcher Reggie Edgerton, a professor of neurobiology and physiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a statement that the spinal cord contains nerve circuits that can generate rhythmic activity without input from the brain, which can move the hind leg in a way that resembles walking.