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Biotech Medicine Science

Paraplegic Rats Enabled To "Walk" Again 99

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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  • 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...
  • 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 []. This study suggests that these drugs could have a very significant medical application. In the US, the Controlled Substances Act [] 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.

  • Re:Spinal reflex (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @09:49PM (#29486601)

    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:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @10:26PM (#29486811)
    If? You mean *when* they do become reality. It is only a matter of time, mark my words. Humans *love* advancing tech to kill or maim each other, laser rifles or handguns? Absolutely.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @11:19PM (#29487249) Journal

    ... 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 off most, if not all, of these. (There are other systems than legs-walking that would benefit from the same approach, as well.)

    With months or years of all functions but the direct brain control kept healthy, attempts to restore the broken connection (whether by training promoting regrowth of nerve connections, stem-cell treatment, or whatever) would be greatly aided. (Currently, by the time you can try to regrow and retrain the nerves there's a good chance the stuff you're trying to control has broken down partially or completely. Oh, well...)

  • Re: Your sig (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @01:18AM (#29488031)

    Because "securing our country" means "invade a country which has nothing to do with us".

    Funny how it's more patriotic to support an invasion based on, at best, bad intelligence rather than support health care reforms, y'know, seeing as he failed in securing the country entirely in both invasions.

    Also, hi, I'm from Australia, I have socialised health care and it's no disaster. Europe tells me it works well too.

    I suppose this research is useless for 90% of americans anyway, because even if it was ever useful for people, they wouldn't be able to afford it, because you have the worst healthcare system in the entire first world.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @06:18AM (#29489045)

    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 minutes. Great for her, big achievment, hurray for her! Fucking shit for the rats and monkeys who "donated" their brain tissue.

    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?

  • 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.

  • by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <slashdot AT pitabred DOT dyndns DOT org> on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:46AM (#29492143) Homepage
    Sorta like the hypocrites in charge of PETA []?

    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?

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant