Written by Julie Taylor
New Hope for Human Spinal-Cord Injuries – Stepping
This latest story shows how therapy for paralyzed rats is giving hope to humans with spinal-cord injuries at UCLA because researchers, using a combination of drugs, electrical stimulation of muscles and exercise, have enabled paralyzed rats to walk and run…
Can you imagine the emotional impact suddenly being rendered incapable of free movement must have on a young person?
We can learn so much by observing nature. Observing animals allows us a precious window into our ‘real’ behavior, uncluttered by our thinking brains. By exploring this animal behavior – and by thinking of it in terms of how we humans interpret it – my hope is that we can learn how to overcome both disease and the affects of tragic accidents.
This article shows that the spinal cord contains nerve circuits can generate activity without input from the brain to drive the hind legs in a way that resembles walking. This movement is called ‘stepping’ says principal investigator Reggie Edgerton. He says this is the first time full weight-bearing and sustained stepping – despite complete spinal-cord injuries – has been demonstrated.
This story was published in Nature Neuroscience. The findings suggest “the regeneration of severed nerves is not required for rats to walk again and may hold promise for humans with spinal-cord injuries.”
There has been much news recently about the plasticity of the brain – personally I always knew that there was ‘more’ and I am excited to watch the new research unfold. In 1985 I was paralyzed after a major accident and my doctors advised that I would not be able to walk again. Instinctively I knew they were wrong.
I look around me and I feel so frustrated when I see the devastation caused by accidents and disease. If every cell is renewed every few weeks/months (length of time depends on which type of cell) then why would the body – and the brain, which is so incredibly intelligent in so many other areas – renew a ‘broken’ cell? Jill Bolte-Taylor, a brain researcher, has written a book – also available as an audio book – about her own recovery from paralysis after a major stroke and there’s a free video clip of one of her presentations here (*****)
If you come across other new research and inspiring stories, please let me know so that I can share them – other books here are from Jack Lalane – who is now a very healthy and still-exercising 95 year old – and another interesting book (fact not fiction) about the brain that changes itself.