April 8, 2014
Four men who had each been paralyzed from the chest down for more than two years and been told their situation was hopeless regained the ability to voluntarily move their legs and feet – though not to walk – after an electrical device was implanted in their spines, researchers reported on Tuesday.
The success, albeit in a small number of patients, offers hope that a fundamentally new treatment can help many of the 6 million paralyzed Americans, including the 1.3 million with spinal cord injuries. Even those whose cases are deemed so hopeless they are not offered further rehabilitation might benefit, scientists say.
The results also cast doubt on a key assumption about spinal cord injury: that treatment requires damaged neurons to regrow or be replaced with, for instance, stem cells. Both approaches have proved fiendishly difficult and, in the case of stem cells, controversial.
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