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New study brings hope for paralysis victims

Paralyzed rats were restored to full movement in a Swiss study that is bringing hope to spinal cord injury victims in New York, the U.S. and throughout the world. The treatment combines electrical and chemical stimulation along with robotic support. After therapy, paralyzed rats were able to walk and run again.

For victims of car accidents, falls and other spinal cord injuries, the new research and treatment brings hope and possibility for a full recovery. According to the research team, the rats were able to initiate a run, and quickly sprint, climb stairs and avoid obstacles. The five-year study was published in a science journal last Friday.

While it remains unclear whether a similar technique could help people with spinal cord damage, it does shed light on new ways of treating paralysis. Other medical scientists agree that the research is groundbreaking and offers hope for restoring function to spinal cord injury patients.

The rats had a direct cut through the spinal cord, which is very different from the injuries usually suffered by humans. Human spinal cord injuries are usually the result of bruising or compression. It is unclear whether the treatments will be transferrable to those injuries. It is also unclear whether the electronic stimulation could help a spinal cord that has been damaged for a long-period of time. Many victims also suffer complications with scar tissue and damage to nerve cells, which could negatively impact treatment options.

Still, the research demonstrates that encouraging and increasing the repair of the spinal cord is possible. Many agree that the research is more promising than other methods that have been proposed in the past.

Source: The Washington Post, "Paralyzed rats walk again in Swiss lab study," Chris Wickham, May 31, 2012.