Doctors are doing the unthinkable — making paralyzed patients walk again!

In a study on laboratory mice, researchers discovered the central nervous system, responsible for communicating messages between the brain and body, can reorganize itself and follow new pathways to restore movement. In subjects with incomplete spinal cord damage, where the short nerve fibers are spared, researchers found some level of movement was restored within eight weeks.

“The shorter never fibers have always been discounted in their function in walking by the brain,” Michael Sofroniew, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at the University of California – Los Angeles and lead author of the study told Ivanhoe. “But it turns out if you give them time to reorganize, they can actually mediate some commands from the brain to restore at least some walking. Not perfect walking, but reasonable walking.”

Dr. Sofroniew said he and his fellow researchers were surprised by these findings and hopeful this discovery in mice will translate to humans. If successful, it could rock the medical community.

“Up until about 25 years ago, scientists and researchers pretty much believed that the brain and spinal cord were hard wired and could not respond to damage. During the last 25 years, it has become clear that there is some capacity for the brain to reorganize itself, Dr. Sofroniew said. “The implications of that are that we need to identify better how this works and how we can exploit it through training and stimulation.”

SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with Michael Sofroniew, M.D., Ph.D.; Nature Medicine, 2008,14;69-74

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