A spinal cord injury caused by a motor vehicle accident or medical malpractice is life-changing and can cause a significant amount of not only physical, but also emotional pain and financial difficulties. This is because oftentimes, when the spinal cord is damaged, the signals between the brain and parts of the body are disrupted. This in turn can lead to a loss of feeling or complete loss of function, like quadriplegia or paraplegia.
And while right now there still is not a fix-all for those who are paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, some hope is on the horizon. Recently, a lab experiment using spinal nerve stimulation resulted in more than 100 rats overcoming paralysis to some level.
In this lab, rats were implanted with electrodes and a chemical injection. An electrical current would stimulate the spinal nerve circuits in the rats.
To determine if this was working, the rats were placed in harnesses so their hind legs could reach the ground. At first, the rats were put on a treadmill, where their reflexes would result in them stepping -- still in the harness. Later, the same rats were put on stationary ground with a piece of chocolate in front of them. In order to get to the chocolate the rats -- again still in harnesses -- would have to take steps.
After two to three weeks, many of the rats took steps on their own.
However, it should be noted that in these experiments, the rats were still in harnesses for balance. Researchers are also quick to point out that this kind of spinal nerve circuit stimulation will not necessarily result in someone who is paraplegic walking again, but could result in more range of motion for that person.
If this type of technique is used on people, instead of implanted electrodes, the same stimulation would be transmitted through the skin.
Of course, while all of this gives hope to those with spinal cord injuries, it is still important to remember this will not restore a person's life back to what it was before the accident.