Rob Summers stunned doctors at the University of Louisville when, for the first time in five years, he stood on his own two feet. Paralyzed from the waist down after being hit by a car at age 20, the former Oregon State baseball player may one day step back into the batters box thanks to an electrical stimulator attached to his spine. His gleeful reaction is priceless not only for the double entendre but also for the reminder of how historical this medical breakthrough could be. "It was unbelievable," Summers told the New York Times. "There was so much going through my head at that point; I was amazed, was in shock."
Lead by Susan Harkema, the team of researchers in Louisville collaborated with UCLA and the California Institute of Technology in a study to gauge the effects of continual direct electrical current may have on the spinal cords of paralyzed patients. As spinal injury tends only to damage certain segments of the spine, the scientists hypothesized that stimulation via implanted electrodes may stir the intact neurons to compensate. The implant essentially mimics the brain signals normally needed to control motor movement, and along with rigorous physical therapy, may help wheelchair-bound patients walk again, scientists theorized. But they never expected it to happen so fast. Summers, pictured right, was able to stand after only three days of electrical stimulation. By contrast, his previous therapy showed almost no progress after 170 sessions over the course of 26 months. Read (or listen to a podcast of) the full results of the study published in The Lancet.