With careful training using a robotic harness, and a special chemical cocktail designed to stimulate brain cells, rats with spinal cord injuries were able to re-learn how to walk. Scientists in Switzerland say the tests suggest humans with paralysis due to spinal cord injuries may regain some nerve activity.
The therapy takes advantage of the nervous system's inherent plasticity, in which neural networks can be rewired to take on different tasks. Areas of the motor cortex were able to establish new connections to the rats' hind limbs, which had been paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries in a manner similar to spinal cord paralysis in people.
Despite the nervous system's ability to reroute itself, half of human spinal cord injuries lead to paralysis, according to researchers led by Grégoire Courtine at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. But with a neural prosthesis, in this case an electrochemical treatment, and a robotic assistance device, even the most debilitating injury can be re-routed. The trick was rousing the dormant spinal column, the researchers say.
This is different from other robotically mediated paralysis therapy we saw recently involving brain-derived motor control. In that study, human patients wore a cranial device that tapped into their thoughts to control a robotic arm. In this case, the treatment is physiological, inducing dormant neurons to forge new connections and move limbs directly.
First, Courtine and colleagues injected the rats with a chemical cocktail that binds to dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin receptors on the spinal cord's neurons. This replaced the neurotransmitters that would normally be released in healthy spinal pathways. A few minutes after priming the neurons, the team stimulated the rats' spinal cords through electrodes implanted into the spinal canal. This sent electrical signals to the roused neurons. Then the rats needed to be trained to use their limbs again. Within a week of their injuries, the rats were on treadmills, forging new neural connections.
Courtine and colleagues built a little rat vest that supported the animals as they stood on the treadmill. The vest stood them up on their hind legs, basically forcing them to use their paralyzed hind legs to walk upright. The rats tried to move toward a piece of chocolate on the other end, and gradually this "willpower-based training" built up new nerve fibers, the researchers say.
After two weeks of training, the rats took their first voluntary steps on their paralyzed legs. Within five or six weeks, all the rats in the study were able to walk bipedally, on their hind legs, for extended periods, Courtine et al. say.
"This is the world-cup of neurorehabilitation," Courtine said in an EPFL news release. "Our rats have become athletes when just weeks before they were completely paralyzed. I am talking about 100 percent recuperation of voluntary movement."
This is still a long way from working in humans, however. But human clinical trials are already on the horizon, set to start within two years in Zurich, according to EPFL.
The paper will be published in this week's issue of Science.
WOW! Amazing! Super! I look forward this medical science working towards humans!
This is very cool!
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
The thought of who this is going to be able help is staggering. For anyone with this kind of disability, having the ability to relearn basic motor skills is fascinating and exciting. Amazing work by these doctors, just simply amazing.
In space, no one can hear a tree fall in the forest.
Yes, we can rebuild him. He will be the 6 Million Dollar Mighty RAT and launch a whole new TV series!!!!!!
I am just surprise the video, wasn't in slow motion for the effect of high speed.
They are teaching this rat with a broken back to walk upright? Am I the only one noticing a unnatural problem with this. Once they feel the back\spine is healing and they remove the body harness, will the rat walk upright like humans? Of course, that would really be cool to see!!!
I predict "Frenchy the Rat" will forget his female rat friends and start doing some sly disco Michael Jackson moon walk moves to impress the human female lab technician!
He will not be able to help himself!
He is French you know. ;)
Jun A. Auman
they used a piece of chocolate to force the rat to try and walk...
so are we going to use a naked woman for the men and a shopping spree for the women to get us to be motivated...:)
but seriously this is great hope this works out.
Fear, is but your mind holding you back
As they do all this experimenting and rehabilitation on the RAT, I wonder how much pain the RAT must endure.
Maybe some people may say, do not worry about the RAT, this is for the benefit of medical science.
But, my real point is, if this rehabilitation is with great quantities of pain, would this be something we do to a human? Could or would a human endure it?
One thing that irked my was that the spinal cord never healed. Unless the spinal cord can reheal it's damaged areas to support the human weight and protect the newly grown synapses, then what's to say that the area of damage is more likely to be damaged again when a real human tries to walk again?
This is amazing!!!
making a movie of a mouse will be a lot easier now
Now this is science at it's finest, away with the big expensive bulky walking machines, and enter small intrusive devises like this that help stimulate a physical result.