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Rats with severe spinal cord injuries walk again

In an exciting study to be published today in Science, researchers are announcing that they have successfully rehabilitated rats with severe spinal cord injuries. The results are groundbreaking and represent a major step forward for paralysis treatment. Researchers utilized several methods that are already used in human patients, but combined them in a way that has not been tried in the past.

The study involved rats with spinal cord injuries similar to those found in people with paralysis. Then the researchers administered a combination of physical therapy and electrical shocks that would simulate the signals that the brain sends into the nervous system.

The result was a "nearly complete regrowth of spinal nerve fibers" and the rats gained the ability to walk again using electrical harnesses. The doctors say that although the results are slightly different for an animal that walks on four legs, that the study can still give a lot of people hope for future treatment for paralysis.

"Some people might say it's not worth doing anything with" severely paralyzed people, "because there's almost nothing left," said a spokesperson for the National Institute of Health. "Studies like this one show it's worth trying."

Spinal cord injuries and paralysis affect individuals and families every day. Treatment and medical attention is often very expensive and recovery can be slow and only incremental.

The other magic ingredient in this study was of course chocolate, which was given to the rats as an incentive to run up the stairs or to get on the treadmill.

Source: National Geographic, "Paralyzed Rats Walk Again, Thanks to Electricity, Chemicals--And Chocolate," Rachel Kaufman, May 31, 2012

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