Scientists Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again With Neurorehabilitation Technique

Posted on June 2, 2012

Paralyzed Rat Learning to Walk


Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have been able to get paralyzed rats walking again after first cutting their spinal cords in two places for the experiment. The researchers injected chemicals into the spinal cords of the rats. They then stimulated the spinal cords with electricity. The rats were also trained to take steps using a robotic harness. The EPFL scientists call the technique neurorehabilitation.

Lead author Gregoire Courtine says the "spinal brain" of the rats is being reawakened with the chemicals, electricity and exercises on the robotic harness.

Courtine says, "This is the world-cup of neurorehabilitation. Our rats have become athletes when just weeks before they were completely paralyzed. I am talking about 100% recuperation of voluntary movement. After a couple of weeks of neurorehabilitation with a combination of a robotic harness and electrical-chemical stimulation, our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles when stimulated."

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The EPFL researchers believe the radical reaction of the rat spinal cord to treatment offers hope that people with spinal cord injury will soon have some options on the horizon. Courtine is optimistic that human, phase-two trials will begin in a year or two at Balgrist University Hospital Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Zurich, Switzerland. The research was published here in the journal Science.

Photo: EPFL/Gregoire Courtine