Bridging broken spinal cords

Date:1 June 2011 Tags:

BRIDGING BROKEN SPINAL CORDS

When a spinal cord is severed, signals from the brain are cut off from muscles below the area of injury, but the neural pathways that carry and interpret those signals remain intact. Now, researchers have shown in studies of rats that a jolt of electricity can activate those neural circuits and instruct the body to walk. Neuroscientists at the University of California at Los Angeles recently created an "electronic spinal bridge" that connected the two ends of a rat's severed spinal cord. When the rodent moved both of its front limbs in a walking motion, the action triggered a charge to the spinal cord, enabling the paraplegic animal's hind limbs to move without instruction from the brain. The researchers will try to tap latent motor patterns in damaged human spines, but they concede that adapting the system to bipeds will be difficult. – ALEX HUTCHINSON