LONDON — Scientists in Switzerland have restored full movement to rats paralyzed by spinal cord injuries in a study that spurs hope that the techniques may hold promise for someday treating people with similar injuries.
"Our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles," said Courtine, whose results from the five-year study will be published in the journal Science on Friday.
Courtine is quick to point out that it remains unclear if a similar technique could help people with spinal cord damage but he adds the technique does hint at new ways of treating paralysis.
Other scientists agree.
"This is ground-breaking research and offers great hope for the future of restoring function to spinal injured patients," said Elizabeth Bradbury, a
But Bradbury notes that very few human spinal cord injuries are the result of a direct cut through the cord, which is what the rats had. Human injuries are most often the result of bruising or compression and it is unclear if the technique could be translated across to this type of injury.
It is also unclear if this kind of electro-chemical "kick-start" could help a spinal cord that has been damaged for a long time, with complications like scar tissue, holes and where a large number of nerve cells and fibres have died or degenerated.
Nevertheless, Courtine's work does demonstrate a way of encouraging and increasing the innate ability of the spinal cord to repair itself, a quality known as neuroplasticity.