Paralyzed man stands up thanks to new therapy

NEW YORK - For the first time, a patient paralyzed from the waist down -- a 25-year-old man -- has been able to stand up on his own and take a few steps. CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports the credit goes to an experimental new treatment.

Rob Summers was a star college pitcher five years ago when a hit-and-run accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

"When am I going to walk again?" Summers asked his doctors. Summers says his doctors told him, you'll never walk again, or take a step - nothing.

They were wrong. On Thursday, researchers working with theChristopher Reeve Foundationannounced that Summers is the world's first patient to stand using a new therapy that could fundamentally change the treatment of paralysis.

"I stood - independently - stood," Summers says. "After not having moved anything for four years ... and I stood."

The landmark findings are published in the journal Lancet. They challenge conventional thinking that signals from the brain are needed for walking.

What we've really discovered is the neurons in the spinal cord can do all the same things as the nerves in the brain," says lead study author Susan Harkema, of the University of Louisville.

Summers' injury disrupted the nerve pathway that normally triggers walking. Researchers implanted an electrical stimulator at the base of the spine that - along with special exercises - allowed his legs to move without input from the brain.

"I stand about an hour a day," Summers says. "I can move my toes ankles knees, hips all on command."

He's also made other meaningful progress - regaining bladder and sexual function. But he's still wheelchair-bound, and doctors cannot say whether he'll walk again on his own. But, every day, he remembers the first time he stood up.

"It's that moment that continues to give me the hope for tomorrow, and the future for this project - and helping out millions of other people in my same situation," Summer says.

He's only able to take steps with help, when the stimulating device is plugged-in in the lab. So it's nowhere near ready for widespread use.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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