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Pioneering treatment offers paraplegics hope

Illustration of a human human nerve cell © Shutterstock/Sebastian Kaulitzki
Illustration of a human nerve cell © Shutterstock/Sebastian Kaulitzki

Scientists have managed to get paralysed rats to walk again, using a combination of chemicals and electrical stimulation, an achievement that might one day help wheelchair-bound humans.

‘If someone is paralysed in a wheelchair, and they can stand up, walk a few steps at home – it's already a great improvement in their everyday life.’

Grégoire Courtine, a professor at the EPFL in Switzerland

Researchers at NEUWalk, an EU-funded project, developed a chemical cocktail that can help damaged nerves function again. Then they electrically stimulated the spinal cord using electrodes implanted at precise locations. This combination led the spinal cord to regenerate, enabling the paralysed rats to walk.

‘Together, these electrochemical stimulations create a highly functional spinal cord network,’ said project leader Grégoire Courtine, a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. ‘That means the subject is ready to walk.’

The technique won't be able to remedy all injuries, he says. But it might offer hope to people with damaged spinal cords. ‘If someone is paralysed in a wheelchair, and they can stand up, walk a few steps at home – it's already a great improvement in their everyday life.’

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