Paralysed rats on 'incredible' road to recovery
Swiss researchers say they have been able to make paralysed rats walk again.
Scientists from the Federal Polytechnique School in Switzerland injected a cocktail of drugs into the rats' spines, then electronically stimulated their spinal canals.
Lead researcher Gregoire Courtine says after a couple of weeks of rehabilitation, the paralysed rats were not just walking, but sprinting and climbing up stairs.
He says the research has implications for humans.
"This very surprising plasticity and recovery that we have observed opens promising perspective in humans with spinal cord injury," he said.
Scientists plan to start human trials of the treatment in two years.
Dr Bryce Vissel, who works on nervous system regeneration at the Gavin Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, has told AM it is an exciting piece of research.
He says it demonstrates for the first time science may be able to offer the possibility of recovery from spinal cord injury.
"In this case we are actually not repairing the spinal cord," Dr Vissel said.
"They are allowing the natural processes in the spinal cord to do their thing, to actually stimulate natural nervous system plasticity.
"The rats were paralysed. They had lesions, very severe lesions to their spinal cord which cut the connection between their brain and the lower part of their spinal cord."
Dr Vissel says that with the combination of drugs and electrical simulation, the scientists got the animals to start moving involuntarily.
"As this treatment continued over some days and weeks ... a natural process occurred whereby the brain started sending out projections into the lower spinal cord, meaning they started to rewire together and eventually the brain got control back over the spinal cord," he said.
This is an incredible step. [It] provides great hope that this is going to be able to go forward to help people, at least some people with spinal cord injury.
Dr Bryce Vissel
But he cautions that it does not provide hope for all people with a spinal cord injury.
"I think a qualifier is that there has to be some function left," Dr Vissel said.
"There has to be a little bit of a pathway left through the lesion of the spinal cord in order for this to be able to work."
Dr Vissel says he is most interested in is evidence of the natural capacity of the brain and the spinal cord to repair itself.
"The capacity, the plasticity of the nervous system is really remarkable," he said.
"For myself and many scientists who work on a range of neurological diseases, I think that we are all going to understand that the implications of this go much further potentially to helping a number of neurological diseases.
"It seems inevitable and the investigators who did this study are saying that they are going into clinical trials as soon as they possibly can in Switzerland and I'd be very surprised if it doesn't start to take off rapidly around the world."
The research has been published in the journal Science.
Source: ABC News