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An Unusual Animal Gives Those Who Were Paralyzed Hope to Walk Again

When a worker is injured on the job, it can prevent them from earning badly needed wages from their job. When a worker suffers a spinal cord injury, the consequences are extremely serious. A spinal cord injury can cause partial or complete paralysis. New research presented at November’s Society for Neuroscience meeting gives hope that those who have been paralyzed in an accident may be able to walk again.

Professor V. Reggie Edgerton presented research done on a device he and a student had been developing that helped paralyzed rats run on a treadmill. The device is an electronic neural bridge that allows impulses to “jump” over pathways that were blocked or severed from a spinal cord injury. The spinal cord basically has its own memory system that understands the messages sent from the brain. The lower half of the spinal cord knows what “walk” means, but the message has been stopped.

“The signal coming down from the brain isn’t to activate this muscle and then this muscle and then this muscle,” Edgerton explained to listeners. “It’s to activate a program that’s built into the circuitry. A message comes down from the brain that says step. The spinal cord knows what stepping is; it just has to be told to do that.”

Critics argue that while rats were able to use the bridge to run, the movement was prompted after their front legs began to move. They say that because humans walk on two legs only, unprompted by their arms, the transition of the device technology from rat to human may not necessarily be successful.

Source: MIT Technology Review “Device Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk Again” Lauren Gravitz 12/3/10

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