|Photograph courtesy of Arizona State University|
A cure for paralysis seemed far off when Discover
reported on the repair of spinal cords in rats (January 2001, page 66). Reconstruction of the human spinal cord still isn't feasible, but researchers using a different method have helped a paraplegic walk again. "This technique doesn't concentrate on regrowth; it concentrates on exciting spinal circuits below the level of the damage," says Richard Herman, a physician and neuroscientist at Arizona State University. Herman and his colleagues combined a novel form of physical therapy with neural stimulus to treat a man who had been confined to a wheelchair for more than three years. The researchers suspended the patient (right), removing much of the weight from his feet, while he attempted to walk on a treadmill. After months of training, they began electrically stimulating the patient's spinal cord. Eventually, he could stand up and walk to the bathroom or out to the mailbox with modest effort. Herman believes this rehabilitation technique could restore some limb function to at least 10,000 people in the United States with less severe spinal cord injuries.