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Treatment helps paralyzed rats walk

Combination of drugs, electrical stimulation and therapy restores lost connections

After weeks of training, rats learn how to walk, run and  climb stairs (shown) on formerly paralyzed hind legs. A robotic harness  supports and stabilizes the animal.

Scientists have trained paralyzed rats to walk, run and even climb stairs. Weeks of rigorous practice coupled with an electrochemical spine-stimulating regimen allowed the animals to overcome devastating spinal cord injuries that immobilized their rear legs, Swiss scientists report in the June 1 Science.

Although preliminary, the results offer hope to people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. “The really exciting thing, the take-home message for people living with spinal cord injuries, is that this represents yet another step towards real treatment,” says neurologist John McDonald of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The real beauty is that this is not something that would necessarily have to go through 10 years of FDA approval.”

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