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Paraplegic Rats Enabled To "Walk" Again 99

Posted by kdawson
from the for-some-definitions-of-walk dept.
eldavojohn notes a paper released in Nature Neuroscience today describing work in which paraplegic rats were enabled to walk again as early as a week after injury and treatment. The process involves a serotonin-influencing drug and electrical stimulation of the spine, along with an incentive to the paralyzed back legs to move — namely, being placed on a treadmill. Soon a poorly understood spinal mechanism called the "central pattern generator" kicks in and the rats' legs move under the stimulus of a rhythmic signal from the spine (the brain is not involved). Eurekalert reports, "Daily treadmill training over several weeks eventually enabled the rats to regain full weight-bearing walking, including backwards, sideways and at running speed. However, the injury still interrupted the brain's connection to the spinal cord-based rhythmic walking circuitry, leaving the rats unable to walk of their own accord."
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Paraplegic Rats Enabled To "Walk" Again

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  • this would be great news for the paralyzed people. Sure, you can't think 'walk there' and walk there, but if they can hook this system up to an electrode and an input device like a mouthcontrolled switch (if someone is fully paralyzed) it would give them great freedom again!
    • ... if they can hook this system up to an electrode and an input device like a mouthcontrolled switch (if someone is fully paralyzed) it would give them great freedom again!

      Or arm-controlled for paras and partially-quads.

      But it would have other advantages.

      The paralysis of the lower body from loss of brain control due to spinal injury produces a host of medical complications. Restoring and maintaining nerve and muscle function below the break, even if it requires prosthetic assist to control it, would head

    • Does it make me a bad person if I immediately thought of the hilarity that could be had with long term coma patients and a childhood growing up with Robot Wars?
    • by nametaken (610866)

      It would be fantastic news, except that I've read a similar version (or two) of this story every f'ing year for at least the last 15 years. The only difference is that sometimes it's dogs and not rats.

      Pardon me for being so cynical, but they never, ever materializes as a treatment for humans.

      • by mdwh2 (535323)

        Similarly with life-extension. When I was younger, I remembering being excited at reading how they'd extended the life expectancy of a fly by about 50%. But it seems things aren't progressing beyond that :(

    • Actually there was a cerebral input sensor they developed for the monkey who would move a robotic arm just by thinking certain ways , and this would stimulate his brain patterns that the implant would recognize as a certain pattern equal to move here or pick this up. This would complement each other very well....in fact a merger would not be a bad thing between both companies.

  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:07PM (#29486163) Homepage Journal

    Imagine being the crippled rat and suddenly you can walk, but with a hitch.

    "Hey Jack, look, I'm walking! I can walk again! But wait a second, I didn't want to walk. Damn, I'm walking for no reason! Jack, make it stop! My legs keep...Jack? I'm going on an unwanted vacation it seems. Nice knowing ya! Tell Martha I love her. You can have my cheese, okay?"

    • Imagine being the crippled rat and suddenly you can walk, but with a hitch.

      "Hey Jack, look, I'm walking! I can walk again! But wait a second, I didn't want to walk. Damn, I'm walking for no reason! Jack, make it stop! My legs keep...Jack? I'm going on an unwanted vacation it seems. Nice knowing ya! Tell Martha I love her. You can have my cheese, okay?"

      And then the second rat shows the walking rat to all the other rats, convinces them he did it through the power of God, then spends the rest of his life getting rich off donations. In exchange, he pushes the other rats over and tells them they're healed of whatever ailment the scientists gave them.

    • by Daimanta (1140543)

      "You can have my cheese, okay?"

      That isn't funny because it propagates the idea that rats and mice like cheese. They don't and they prefer sweet things like soft candy.

      Ever wondered why your mouse traps don't catch mice? Exactly.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        That isn't funny because it propagates the idea that rats and mice like cheese.

        No, that's why it's funny.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:08PM (#29486173) Journal

    Edgerton's team tested rats with complete spinal injuries that left no voluntary movement in their hind legs.

    That is usually code for "we severed the spine so we could test out this technique"

    • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday September 20, 2009 @09:26PM (#29486509)

      Really?!? I thought these were rats that were in bad car accidents, war vets, and took nasty falls down the stairs!

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @10:04PM (#29486679)

      That is usually code for "we severed the spine so we could test out this technique"

      That is usually code for "I disapprove of this research and will continue to do so right up until I get a spinal cord injury, at which point I will promptly forget I was ever opposed to it and will gripe about the research taking too long."

      • That is usually code for "we severed the spine so we could test out this technique"

        That is usually code for "I disapprove of this research and will continue to do so right up until I get a spinal cord injury, at which point I will promptly forget I was ever opposed to it and will gripe about the research taking too long."

        You sir are no better than who you responded to because you pidgin-holed a large group of people by saying something obtuse. It edges on trolling (though I doubt you will me modded as such).

        When market speak is pointed out in MS articles, those posts get an automatic +5 insightful. Though I am not sure that is exactly what this is in this case. I strongly think paraplegic was only used for brevity and because it has an exact medical meaning. It wouldn't surprise me if another page of the report detailed

        • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday September 21, 2009 @02:35AM (#29488287)

          You sir are no better than who you responded to because you pidgin-holed a large group of people by saying something obtuse. It edges on trolling (though I doubt you will me modded as such).

          It was snarky, but so was the GP. I did respond in kind. That's what is needed sometimes. Tubesteak was acting as if this is a crime, it's not, it's valuable research with good goals. He might value rat life differently. That's fine, but it's worth pointing out that animal rights advocates who speak out against paralyzing animals to find cures for paralysis rarely think they have anything to gain from that research. I think if they did realize they had something to gain from it, or if they had an ounce of empathy for those who are paralyzed, they would feel differently.

          I do hate it when people word things that they think some groups might find disgusting so that it is round about.

          That wasn't what happened. The authors explained their methods in detail inthe actual nature article. [nature.com]

          It's important to remember that when reading about research on /., rarely are the summary or "the article" actually written by the scientists themselves. "TFA" is usually written by a staff writer at websites like newscientist, and the summaries are written by /.ers. Occasionally, a link is provided to the real paper, as it was here. That's the actual stuff straight from the horse's mouth. Before you critique the scientists for being incomplete or not including information, make sure you're reading the article that the scientists wrote to see if they did that, but the chain of people who brought it to slashdot left it out.

          Tubesteak was taking advantage of that, acting as if the scientists were trying to cover up that information, when in fact they made no attempt to conceal it.

          • by pizzach (1011925)

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply and it was deserving of your moderation. The danger with snarky comments is that they can create a escalation instead of good discussion. (Especially when users lose be basis of what the comments was in reply to.)

            Snarky comments also by their nature are a double edged sword, where usually the first moderation determines how other readers will interpret it. You were moderated insightful. Not funny. There is always the danger of someone buzzing around first a with troll mod

          • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

            by pizzach (1011925)

            It's important to remember that when reading about research on /., rarely are the summary or "the article" actually written by the scientists themselves. "TFA" is usually written by a staff writer at websites like newscientist, and the summaries are written by /.ers. Occasionally, a link is provided to the real paper, as it was here. That's the actual stuff straight from the horse's mouth. Before you critique the scientists for being incomplete or not including information, make sure you're reading the article that the scientists wrote to see if they did that, but the chain of people who brought it to slashdot left it out.

            I said the exact same thing as you in your post....yet I got modded off topic and you got +5 insightful? WTF What I had written was below.

            Though I am not sure that is exactly what this is in this case. I strongly think paraplegic was only used for brevity and because it has an exact medical meaning. It wouldn't surprise me if another page of the report detailed exactly how they made the rats paraplegic, perhaps even using the words that the poster that you were replying to wished they did.

            Slashdot...disappoints me.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by interkin3tic (1469267)

              Moderations are often strange and mysterious, but in this case they weren't exactly the same things. For one thing rather than just -speculating- that the researchers provided information as to how they paralyzed the rats, I provided the link. I also explained WHY it sometimes seems incomplete.

              Not that it made my post on-topic and insightful as opposed to offtopic, just that may have been some of the odd thinking behind the moderations.

              • by pizzach (1011925)

                Moderations are often strange and mysterious, but in this case they weren't exactly the same things. For one thing rather than just -speculating- that the researchers provided information as to how they paralyzed the rats, I provided the link. I also explained WHY it sometimes seems incomplete.

                I was unimpressed with the moderators, not you. When I did post on topic, I was moded off topic. Your post this time just got modded up even though it was totally off topic. *sigh* I think it comes down to saying something the mods like to hear, not whether it is off topic or not.

                I provided the link. I also explained WHY it sometimes seems incomplete

                I also explained "WHY" it seemed incomplete. But no one seemed to read it. I didn't provide a link this time, but I usually do 99% of the time. There are cases where I quote material, and have been modded "TROLL" for it. I lin

      • Yes, I agree that it is totally unethical and inappropriate to injure rats in the name of "research". They are supposed to use lawyers instead, because:

        • There is getting to be a shortage of rats;
        • Scientists sometimes form an emotional attachment to the rats; and
        • There are some things even a rat won't do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PitaBred (632671)
        Sorta like the hypocrites in charge of PETA [consumerfreedom.com]?

        But I believe her. There's no hypocrisy... she's benefiting from past animal research, but she'll be damned if anyone else can benefit from future research. That's not hypocritical, right?
      • by vaporland (713337)
        no more rat telethons, I guess...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The process involves a serotonin-influencing drug

      Looks like code for "we shot them full of XTC", so I'm sure they felt relaxed and loved despite the broken spine.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Looks like code for "we shot them full of XTC", so I'm sure they felt relaxed and loved despite the broken spine.

        Should have shot them up with Adam Ant, but that's just my opinion.

    • by TheCarp (96830) *

      Kind of similar to the tests where they found human lung cancer tumors in mice given THC shrunk and were less likely to metastasize in mice given THC (thats the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis for those who don't know) than in the control group. Or the two other tests done by other labs that found the same thing for breast and prostate cancers?

      I mean, yah, they inserted tumors into healthy mice. Of course they did! How else could they do a test on human cancer cells? It isn't code. Its like, when I s

  • Guys, can you stop enabling lower life forms and pests to recover from any injury or indignity that we can dish out? You're teaching decapitated cockroaches to live for days, paralyzed rats to walk, dead fish to think. Is it any wonder our days as the dominant species are over?

    I for one welcome our... undead invulnerable rat/fish overlords?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:12PM (#29486197)

    First they remove your spine, taking away complete or any control over your limbs. Then they keep you alive, even though in the wild without limbs, you'd be a goner and wouldn't have to suffer every day. Then they hook you up to machines and zap your legs back to life again...but you don't have control over them.

    While this is certainly in the interest of science and progress it does come at the cost of animal torture. Though I'm sure if was in a car accident and a doctor said "we can restore your leg functions but first we must cripple/kill 100 rats" I'd say "kill 1,000".

    • Indeed. Check out what happened to this one [theonion.com].

      Seriously though, it does suck to be a lab rat; however, omelet, eggs.
  • Jom & Terry (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:13PM (#29486201) Homepage Journal

    Extra points if you make it chase a cat.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:16PM (#29486215) Homepage Journal

    ...but that doesn't mean his dancing career ended.

  • Fatmouse. (Score:1, Offtopic)

    I have nothing useful to add to this discussion, but this mouse [h8r.net] could use a treadmill.

  • Overlords? (Score:2, Insightful)

    They should team up with the dead fish with feelings and take over the world.
  • Spinal reflex (Score:5, Interesting)

    by izomiac (815208) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @08:58PM (#29486413) Homepage
    Walking is apparently a spinal reflex. Back in the days before there were strict guidelines on animal research/cruelty some researchers verified this using an experiment. Basically, they had a cat on a treatmill and rigged a device (I'm picturing something from Saw) that severed its spinal cord without knocking it over. The cat kept walking! Since spinal reflexes are preserved if they're below the level of damage, this bodes well for this type of research. Balance would probably be an issue though, since the cerebellum is thought to play a pretty significant role in that. Given, it's unassisted walking, but I'm not convinced many paraplegics would stand for wearing large gyroscopes. Ah, that brings me to the other major hurdle with this technology: standing.

    Interestingly enough, I'm wondering what'll happen if laser rifles ever became reality, or perhaps entered hard science fiction. How weird would it be for a patrolling guard to get shot in the head, but keep on walking...
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Walking is apparently a spinal reflex...

      The phrase "like a chicken with its head cut off" exists for a reason, and I suppose most of us know it, even if we have never seen it. I think this is an analogous phenomenon.

    • Re:Spinal reflex (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @09:58PM (#29486653) Homepage

      Balance would probably be an issue though, since the cerebellum is thought to play a pretty significant role in that. Given, it's unassisted walking, but I'm not convinced many paraplegics would stand for wearing large gyroscopes.

      I would think that many paraplegics would welcome the ability to move under the power of their own legs with the aid of something to substitute for balance (such as a harness to support their weight in a standing position). While it would undoubtedly be awkward and stare-inducing, the psychological difference between being "in a chair" (and literally looked down upon), and being able to stagger up to people and look them in the eye at their own level, could be worth it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @09:25PM (#29486505)
    Many psychoactive drugs have been shown to influence serotonin levels as described in the article. For example, LSD has been shown to be a 5HT2A antagonist [biopsychiatry.com]. This study suggests that these drugs could have a very significant medical application. In the US, the Controlled Substances Act [wikipedia.org] categorizes LSD, and many other psychoactives, in Section 1, as a drug with the following qualities:

    "(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse. (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

    This article suggests that many of the psychoactive drugs in section 1 are misplaced and have legitimate medical uses. Many of these same drugs have been shown to be non-addicting and have LD50 rates that are comparable to things like caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, which implies that they meet none of these three conditions.

    Congress needs to acknowledge that the power to decide what does or does not have medical uses lies with the medical community and not the federal government. The fact that scientific evidence repeatedly refutes the placement of these drugs in section 1 suggests that Congress had ulterior motives is passing this law.

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      I'm pretty strongly opposed to the war on drugs as well...I'm even in the process of starting a chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy at my campus...but you don't appear to have read even the summary. Sure, it can get the rats walking again - but the rats aren't in control of _when_ (or presumably _where_) they walk. I don't think that making paraplegics walk uncontrollably (and into traffic or off of a cliff or into a lake....) will be considered a legitimate medical use...

      Now, if they can figure

    • I once saw a documentary which showed a dutch guy who had Parkinson's disease (I think) before and after taking MDMA (XTC). The difference was day and night: before he couldn't stop shaking, afterwards he had enough control over his body to do gymnastics. That these drugs have valid medical applications is almost a given since they were synthesized just for that reason.

      • a documentary which showed a dutch guy who had Parkinson's disease (I think) before and after taking MDMA (XTC). The difference was day and night: before he couldn't stop shaking, afterwards he had enough control over his body to do gymnastics

        I think that "documentary" was called Austin Powers: Goldmember [imdb.com].

  • by ZackSchil (560462) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @10:41PM (#29486921)

    This looks like the worst case of Restless Leg Syndrome of all time.

  • This experiment no doubt sparks a bit of interest (pun intended) but the relationship between electrical stimulation and leg movement is fairly well known.

    Luigi Galvani [wikipedia.org] noticed way back in the 1700s that the legs of a dead frog would twitch if its sciatic nerve was hit by static electricity.

    The idea that human's with spinal cord damage may be able to walk using this technique sounds to me fanciful, because the electricity needs to be directed. It seems more like a technique that would be able to provoke som

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Muscles and spine are only half the battle. Without the balance loop from the brain, walking would be impossible. The only reason we can walk, being an upside down pyramid shape due to our hips, is because we have great ankles and feet, and because our brain subconsciously controls them for optimal balance.

      The big thing about muscle tone is just to keep it. When any muscle is completely cut off from the brain, the muscle goes slack. The muscle will waste away very quickly, but perhaps a 'tone generator'

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by baegucb (18706)

        They already exist. After a bad motorcycle accident (almost severed a hand off), I had the use of an electrical muscle stimulator that would shock the surface of my skin causing the muscles to spasm. Not as effective as regular therapies and exercise, but I could have it on all the time getting continuous benefit.

  • These rats are getting better medical treatment that I am!
  • This could actually get out of shape people to exercise. Just put their lazy asses on a treadmill and feed several volts of electrical stimulation to their spine. I smell a business opportunity. brb starting company
    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Cue the guy at the start of The Diamond Age who had nanotech implants that constantly flexed his muscles, giving him a body builder physique with zero effort...
  • Zombies have been doing this for centuries.
  • It's a good thing they're curing all these rats.
    How did so many of them get injured?
  • So for humans, would this mean when you have sex with your wife, you have to think of someone else for it to get up?
  • The first step towards the reality of the recent movie, "Gamer"?

    I for one welcome our new remote spine-controlling overlords!

  • after "injury" (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    what always gets me about these stories, however, revolutionary they might be to science. Is that underlying it all. Some fuckwad of a scientists spends his time crippling rats "to see what happens and see if we can fix it".

    I knew a neuro scientists once who spent her PhD and post PhD years seeing how long she could keep brains cells alive for under a microscope. Rats and monkeys were all "used" for this. AT least 10 years of "research" in which she would proudly claim to keep them "alive" for over 5 minut

    • by mike2R (721965)

      when are we going to realise that this kind of "research" isn't right. Surely there has to be better ways of learning than this?

      If we were talking about testing cosmetics then I would agree with you.

      But this sort of research, and that of the neuro scientist you knew, is research that may increase our knowledge of biology. And increasing our knowledge of biology is how we go about developing new cures for sick humans.

      As far as I, and the large majority of people, is concerned, this is an ethical trade

      • by e4g4 (533831)
        Most of the people responsible for testing on animals love animals just as much as the GP, and treat them as kindly and humanely as is possible under the circumstances. Suffering is minimized via anesthetics whenever possible, and while ultimately yes, animals lives are spent in this process, keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases - these animals would not be alive in the first place were it not because they were needed for this type of research.

        My mother (at one time a cardiovascular pharmacol
    • by Hatta (162192) *

      A whole lot can happen in a nerve cell in 5 minutes. Tag some interesting proteins with GFP and you can watch them shuttle around the cell. Then treat the nerve cell with pharmacueticals and you have an awesome model system for understanding neurotransmission. When you learn new things about neurotransmission, you can come up with new and better ways for treating diseases. That's a big deal.

      If you don't think animal research is ethical, I'd recommend you refuse any medical treatments supported by animal

    • by cffrost (885375)

      I knew a neuro scientists once who spent her PhD and [blah blah blah...]

      Yeah yeah yeah, but was she hot?

  • by gordguide (307383) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:58AM (#29489453)

    I personally know a researcher at the UofSaskatchewan (Canada) who has been working on this for more than a decade ... in that case an injection of a drug, administered within half an hour of injury, completely repairs a damaged spine. In rats, no treadmill required, they scamper about as if nothing had happened. The rat trials, repeated many times over many years, are over and have been over for years.
    Primate trials are nearing completion and there is talk of having the drug available on Ambulances within two years, as it's considered viable to fast track human trials on actual injuries rather than clinical trials.

    I also know of at least one researcher in the UK who has similar results using a somewhat different methodology.

    In other words this is an interesting result and article, but this particular team is somewhat behind the current research, which is far advanced beyond simple rat trials.

  • Yay! They'll finally be able to make Christopher Reeves walk again!
    They've been talking about this for some time since he died, but it soulds like they will finally make this wish come true. Too bad it didn't involve ground up babies like they wanted.

  • Perhaps cognitive bias since I have been reading a lot about it lately, but I firmly believe neuroscience will be the next great technological frontier.

    I expect near-direct neural interfaces within my lifetime (no, I'm not joking), I expect fully-robotic limb replacement with sensory feedback within my lifetime, I expect the ability to do full reality-replacement (a la the matrix) within my lifetime.

    Am I optimistic? Maybe, but these things, I believe, are nearly within the our grasp even with current techn

  • This sort of research is being applied at a more practical level. There are centers in the US and Germany which used this basic research in the rehabilitation of spinal cord injury victims. For example: http://www.stjohnsmercyrehab.com/inpatient/spinalcordinjury.asp [stjohnsmercyrehab.com] With partial spinal cord injuries there has been recovery of motor function.

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