Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
Electrical stimulation combined with drugs helps rodents recover.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: June 5th, 2012
eople with spinal injuries haven’t had much hope for recovery, especially since stem cell research failed to produce the results researchers had hoped for. But now, Swiss scientists have successfully rehabilitated paralyzed rats using a combination of drug therapy and electrical stimulation.
The method was developed by a research team at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, led by Gregoire Courtine. By combining exercise, electrical stimulation of the brain and the spinal cord just below the injury, and drugs that stimulate growth, the researchers were able to rehabilitate many of the rats.
“The way I think about it is that there is this little island of spare tissue in the injured area,” Dr. Courtine told the New York Times. “And the neurons in that island begin to act as a relay center, bypassing the injury.”
It remains to be seen whether this treatment will work for humans. Tony Windebank, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic told National Geographic that this therapy can indeed be tried on humans, but says that stimulating the walking reflex is “much easier to do in quadrupeds compared to upright humans.”
"I think it's an important step forward," Windebank said. "Even if it's not the giant step for mankind—it's not going to translate to, ‘Let's do this in people next month and have them walking.’"
If this does lead to a viable therapy for humans with spinal cord injuries, this would indeed be a great thing. If it doesn’t, then it seems needlessly cruel, since the rats’ spinal cords were damaged intentionally be the researchers. That’s the double-edged sword of medical research.