May 31 - Swiss-based scientists are making paralyzed rats walk again by injecting cell binding chemicals into their damaged spinal cords, re-awakening the rodent's so-called ''spinal brain''. Phase two trials on humans are planned for next year. Jim Drury reports.
A once paralysed rat walks again after groundbreaking research that might one day help paraplegic humans regain the use of their legs. Scientists at Switzerland's EPFL institute say they re-awakened what they call the rats' "spinal brain" by injecting the rodents with a solution of cell-binding chemicals. The cocktail triggered cell responses by binding the chemicals to receptors on the spinal neurons. Lead author Grégoire Courtine. SOUNDBITE (English) GREGOIRE COURTINE, CO-AUTHOR OF STUDY AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LIFE SCIENCES AT EPFL, SAYING: "To transform the circuit below the injury from dormant to highly functional state we administered a cocktail of pharmalogical agents and applied electrical stimulation on the docile aspect of the spinal cord." The electrical stimulation re-activated the previously useless limbs, bypassing the brain and allowing the rats to walk, albeit involuntarily. SOUNDBITE (English) GREGOIRE COURTINE, CO-AUTHOR OF STUDY AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LIFE SCIENCES AT EPFL, SAYING: "The brain established new connections. This means that the cut fibres they regrew, established real connection in the spinal cord that enabled it to pass information from the brain past the injury in order to restore volatile control of the circuitry below the injury." The idea that a stimulated rat spinal column could function despite being physically isolated from the brain is new. It points to a profound change in the understanding of the central nervous system. Courtine hopes that Phase Two trials involving humans will begin within two years at a Zurich spinal cord injury centre. If successful, it will represent a major step forward in the search for new treatments for spinal cord injury. Jim Drury, Reuters