Some new research has shown that keeping the brain active (so-termed ‘brain engagement’) can potentially help the treatment of people who have suffered paralysis.
As reported by Kurzweil, the research was undertaken on paralyzed rats. The rats were paralyzed in a way so that complete severing of the spinal cord did not occur (as recovery from a complete severing is unlikely).
The paralyzed rates were then fitted with specially designed support jackets. Without stimulation, the spinal nerves below the injuries were dormant. However, when the rats were stimulated through a combination of neurotransmitters and electrical impulses, some movements were observed. From this experiments were designed.
PDD notes that The scientists showed that a combination of brain engagement and nerve stimulation helped a set of paralyzed rats learn to walk. The researchers undertook this by coaxing the rats to do certain tasks to earn treats, whilst at the same time stimulating the spinal cord and forcing the animals to mimic walking movements.
The research was led by Rubia van den Brand, based at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
The implications of the research are that the techniques could be applied to people with severe spinal injuries and for patients with paralyzed limbs. Neuronal damage to a severed spinal cord is often considered too great for repair. However, the new techniques could be used in conjunction with the use of electrical implants. This is called spinal cord “training”.
The research findings were published in the journal Science. The reference is:
R. van den Brand, et al., “Restoring Voluntary Control of Locomotion after Paralyzing Spinal Cord Injury,” Science, 336:1182-85, 2012.