New research has enabled paralyzed rats to run again two weeks after they were given a cocktail of drugs and electrical impulses.
Scientists have already outlined plans to test the treatment on humans.
It may give hope to those suffering from spinal cord injuries, as the drugs and impulses allowed the rats to “regrow” nerves linking the spinal cord to the brain.
Gregoire Courtine, lead researcher, said the rats were initiating a walking gait as well as sprinting, climbing stairs, and avoiding obstacles after just a couple weeks of neurorehabilitation.
Plans to test the rehabilitation on humans were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Courtine also tested the rehabilitation on rats with bruised spines, a condition that closely resembles human trauma patients. These rats were able to walk in a few weeks without any assistance.
He is hopeful that this could help people who have been unable to walk for up to two years.
While the human trials are a few years away, he is planning to first attempt electrical stimulation on five patients who have limited leg movement in the coming months.
“We know that spinal cord stimulation is safe, we know that training is good, so we want to start the first trial in people who can move their legs but cannot walk independently. So we will implant five patients, we have a new technology which allows us to stimulate the spinal cord of humans just like we do in rats,” he said.
After they have revised the technique, they hope the make it available to patients with moderately damaged spines.
“We already have preliminary data from the rats with these clinically relevant lesions. A number of them would recover at the end of training and could walk without any help. It depends on the severity of the damage,” he explained.
“But if you talk to the patient and you tell them at least you could use it at home to cook, to watch TV and have normal activity, they say their life would be so different. So it is less ambitious, but we are talking about improving the quality of life, allowing people to stand and take a few steps at home with a walker.”