Besides being utterly adorable and begging for a tiny training montage, this rat is actually demonstrating an impressive medical treatment; just a few weeks prior, it was actually paralysed with a spinal cord injury.
Researchers at the EPFL have developed a special electrochemical treatment that can help treat paralysis by encouraging the brain to re-wire some of its neural networks to different tasks. And in this case, the newly assigned task is to take control of limbs that were previously paralysed.
The treatment starts with the rats being injected with a series of chemicals that bond to the receptors on the spinal cord’s neurons. These chemicals then allow the dead spinal cord to be receptive to stimulation from electrodes implanted in the rat’s spinal canal. Over time, the stimulation helps to awaken the spinal cord’s neurons, which in turn allows the spinal cord to basically learn how to move and function again. Although, that is a quick summation of a long process.
The treatment does require the rat to undergo physical therapy, including using its paralysed hind legs to walk on a treadmill. (Hence, the adorable vest getup in that photo.) But after just a couple of weeks of training, the paralysed rats were able to once again take their first steps on their hind legs, and they were able to walk for long periods on their own after six weeks.
Now, unfortunately, the treatment is still a long way from being viable for people who’ve been paralysed with a spinal cord injury, but the results are so far incredibly promising. Clinical trials are scheduled to start on humans in just two years. [EPFL via Popular Science]