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Paralysed man walks after 'breakthrough' surgery.

Summary: A man left completely paralysed from the waist down has stood up on his own and taken faltering steps after pioneering treatment.

A hit-and-run victim who was completely paralysed from the waist down has stood up on his own and taken faltering steps on a treadmill after pioneering treatment.

American Rob Summers, 25, is the first patient to respond to the groundbreaking therapy, which involves many hours of training combined with electrical stimulus.

He said: "This procedure has completely changed my life."

The treatment, which took 30 years to develop, by-passes the brain and "teaches" the spinal cord to control limbs and body functions independently.

As a result, Mr Summers, who is normally confined to a wheelchair, has been able to push himself up and stand for several minutes without assistance.

With help, he has also made repeated stepping motions on a treadmill and voluntarily moved his hips, knees, ankles and toes. In addition, he has regained some sexual and bladder function.

Scientists described the success, reported in The Lancet medical journal, as "a breakthrough" but cautioned that there was still much more work to be done.

Professor Reggie Edgerton, from the University of California at Los Angeles, a leading member of the 11-person team of researchers, said: "The spinal cord is smart. The neural networks in the lumbosacral spinal cord are capable of initiating full weight bearing and relatively coordinated stepping without any input from the brain. This is possible, in part, due to information that is sent back from the legs directly to the spinal cord."

Mr Summers was walking by a road in Portland, Oregon, USA, when a car mounted the kerb and smashed into him in 2006.

Previously an athlete in peak physical condition, he suffered serious spinal cord damage which left him paraplegic.

Still using a wheelchair for mobility, he described what it meant to him to gain even inches of ground in his battle with paralysis.

He said: "For someone who for four years was unable to even move a toe, to have the freedom and ability to stand on my own is the most amazing feeling.

"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. My physique and muscle tone has improved greatly, so much that most people don't even believe I am paralysed. I believe that epidural stimulation will get me out of this chair."

Independent Television News Limited 2011. All rights reserved.

Independent Television News Limited 2011. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Independent Television News Limited (ITN)
Date:May 22, 2011
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