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Paralyzed man can stand and walk again, thanks to spinal implant

Amar Toor, @amartoo
05.20.11
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Here's an amazing story to end your week on a high note: a 25-year-old paraplegic is now walking again, thanks to a groundbreaking procedure developed by neuroscientists at the University of Louisville, UCLA and Cal Tech. The Oregon man, Rob Summers, was paralyzed below the chest in 2006, after getting hit by a speeding car. This week, however, doctors announced that Summers can now stand up on his own and remain standing for up to four minutes. With the help of a special harness, he can even take steps on a treadmill and can move his lower extremities for the first time in years. It was all made possible by a spinal implant that emits small pulses of electricity, designed to replicate signals that the brain usually sends to coordinate movement. Prior to receiving the implant in 2009, Summers underwent two years of training on a treadmill, with a harness supporting his weight and researchers moving his legs. This week's breakthrough comes after 30 years of research, though scientists acknowledge that this brand of epidural stimulation still needs to be tested on a broader sample of subjects before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. Summers, meanwhile, seems understandably elated. "This procedure has completely changed my life," the former baseball player said. "To be able to pick up my foot and step down again was unbelievable, but beyond all of that my sense of well-being has changed." We can only imagine.

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