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New Treatment Allows Paralyzed Patients to Stand, Walk

FILE - A wheelchair sits in the viewing area at a golf course, June 19, 2017. Medical researchers are working to stimulate the spinal cord to allow paralyzed patients to stand and walk.

U.S. researchers are reporting progress in helping those paralyzed by spinal cord injuries to stand, and even to take steps.

Two teams of medical researchers working separately say an electrical implant that stimulates the spinal cord allowed three paralyzed patients to stand and move forward while they held on to a walker or were supported from the back.

One patient was able to walk the length of a football field.

"Recovery can happen if you have the right circumstances," University of Louisville professor Susan Harkema said, adding that the spinal cord can "relearn to do things."

Experts say that a damaged spinal cord leaves the brain unable to send messages to the nerves that activate the muscles.

The researchers believe those nerves are still alive, but are asleep.

Stimulating them with electricity, along with intense rehabilitation, can wake up those sleeping nerves and enable them to receive commands again.

Other earlier treatments using electricity allowed patients to stand and move their toes, but not walk.

But the researchers say this is not a cure for paralysis, and caution that it may not work on every patient. They say more study is needed.

Reports on the new therapy appear in the New England Journal of Medicine and the journal Nature Medicine.