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Treatment Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk

from Science News

Scientists have trained paralyzed rats to walk, run and even climb stairs. Weeks of rigorous practice coupled with an electrochemical spine-stimulating regimen allowed the animals to overcome devastating spinal cord injuries that immobilized their rear legs, Swiss scientists report in the June 1 Science.

Although preliminary, the results offer hope to people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. "The really exciting thing, the take-home message for people living with spinal cord injuries, is that this represents yet another step towards real treatment," says neurologist John McDonald of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The real beauty is that this is not something that would necessarily have to go through 10 years of FDA approval."

Recovery, the Swiss team found, relied on a combination of treatments, all readily adaptable to humans: Nerve cells in the spine below the damaged site were stimulated with a cocktail of drugs similar to some antidepressants. Electrical shocks, delivered via electrodes, also activated the spine. In this way, the researchers primed the rats for the next stage of treatment--learning to walk again.

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