Scientists have used stem cells and a soup of nerve-friendly chemicals to not just bridge a damaged spinal cord but actually regrow the circuitry needed to move a muscle, helping partially paralysed rats walk.
Years of additional research is needed before such an experiment could be attempted in people.
But the work marks a tantalising new step in stem cell research that promises to one day help repair damage from nerve-destroying illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or from spinal cord injuries.
Stem cells are building blocks that turn into different types of tissue. Embryonic stem cells in particular have made headlines, as scientists attempt to harness them to regenerate damaged organs or other body parts.
Dr Naomi Keitman of the National Institutes of Health’s neurology division, says, scientists able to did something that others have been trying to do for at least 30 years and literally hit a brick wall until now.