With the help of electrical stimulation, a paralyzed rat is "walking" again. It's actually being controlled by a computer that monitors its gait and adjusts it to keep the rat balanced.
When a spinal cord is severed, the electrical pulses sent out by the brain to control limb movement are interrupted. With this method of treatment, the rat's leg movements are driven by electrical pulses shot directly into the spinal cord (which has unfortunately been severed in the name of science).
Scientists have been working on this method in humans for awhile, but have only had moderate success — some subjects have regained sensation and movement in their legs, but haven't walked on their own.
In the experiment described in the video above, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers tweaked this use of electrical stimulation: They primed the rats with a drug to boost their ability to respond to the electrical signal. Then, while the rats were placed in treadmill harnesses to support their weight, the researchers trained a camera on their subjects.
The camera tracked the rats as they took electrically stimulated steps, and corrected their movement in real time. This instant feedback made the system precise enough to get the rats up tiny sets of stairs.
MIT Technology Review reports that the team hopes to use a human volunteer within the next year. If the system works on humans, doctors can prescribe its use in rehabilitation therapy.
You can watch the actual experiment in the video below: