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Groundbreaking research that lets lab rats walk again headed for human trials

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Using a cocktail of drugs and electrical impulses, scientists have enabled rats with severed spines to run again after two weeks. In one of the most exciting news in the field of spinal injury, researchers are now outlining their plans for human trials.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The team says they hope the first humans could be implanted with the technology within months. Researchers hope to begin testing the project to "regrow" nerves linking the spinal cord to the brain in five patients in a Swiss clinic.

Grégoire Courtine, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), reported that rats in his lab are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait -- they were sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles. All of this was accomplished within a couple of weeks of neuro-rehabilitation with a combination of a robotic harness and electrical and chemical stimulation.

Courtine revealed the next step for the research at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston. Courtine believes that the technique could help people who have been immobile for up to two years.

Full human trials are still a few years off, Courtine says. He plans to attempt electrical stimulation on five patients who have limited leg movement in the coming months.

"We know that spinal cord stimulation is safe, we know that training is good, so we want to start the first trial in people who can move their legs but cannot walk independently.

"So we will implant five patients, we have a new technology which allows us to stimulate the spinal cord of humans just like we do in the rats."

The new procedure will hopefully rehabilitate patients with moderately damaged spines, while others would regain some movement.

"We already have preliminary data from the rats with these clinically relevant lesions is that a number of them would recover at the end of the training and could walk without any help. It depends on the severity of the damage," he said.

"But if you talk to the patient and you tell them at least you could use it at home to cook, to watch TV and have normal activity, they say their life would be so different.

"So it is less ambitious, but we are talking about improving the quality of life, allowing people to stand and take a few steps at home with a walker."


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