(09/29/2009) Doctors from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the University of California-Los Angeles have conducted successful experiments in partially curing paralysis using paralyzed rats. The neurologists used methods of drugs, muscle stimulation and treadmill exercises to help the rats regain the ability to walk again. The success of these animal trials leaves the doctors believing that this is good news for humans who have been bound to wheelchairs because of spinal cord injuries.
Manipulating the brain’s ability to “speak” with the nerves in the spine that control the body’s ability to walk, these doctors have created a way for the nerves in the injured spines of paralyzed humans to begin “receiving” these commands again, as if the brain were still in control of the actions. With the paralyzed rats, doctors used tiny electrical impulses created by electrodes to begin imitating the brains commands to either walk or don’t walk.
When the experiments on the paralyzed rats began, the subjects had absolutely no movement of their hind legs. Over the course of the eight week study, the doctors were able to get the rats walking with complete normalcy on treadmills for 20 minutes per day. By the end of the study, the rats were able to completely support their entire body weight on their hind legs.
Despite the success, the rodents could still only walk while connected to the electrodes. This means that the doctors will have to create a safe-yet-effective means of impressing the electrical pulses into a human spine to help recreate the success they saw with the rats.
Progress of human research, however, will take some time, as both universities expect to be able to conduct trials and studies on human subjects within the next five years. Doctors believe that with the proper neuroprosthesis and treatment for victims of partial spine injuries, this treatment could be greatly effective in rehabilitation and regaining the ability to walk.
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