Austin Whitney and Rob Summers share a common bond. Both were paralyzed in car accidents; both were told they would never walk again. Thanks to UC  researchers, both have done the seemingly impossible: They have taken steps on their own

Both revelations came within a week. Whitney, 22, stood up from his wheelchair at UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony May 14, and the graduating senior walked across the stage aided by an exoskeleton created by UC Berkeley engineers. Summers, 25, a former college baseball pitcher who has moved to Los Angeles, now can remain standing and take steps on a treadmill, aided by an experimental treatment developed at UCLA.

These breakthroughs point to the innovative ways UC researchers are working to restore mobility in disabled and paralyzed people. In addition to exoskeleton work at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz engineers also are advancing the technology. While UCLA is exploring the use of epidural stimulation, a therapy developed at UC Irvine that made paralyzed rats walk again has become the world’s first embryonic stem cell treatment tested in humans. For Whitney and Summers, these developments represent giant steps.

“The second I pressed the button and stood up, I was flooded with a series of emotions,” said Whitney at a news conference following commencement. He described how the highs and lows of his life flashed through his mind as he was walking, from the instant his legs were paralyzed in a car accident four years ago, to the day he learned he got accepted into UC Berkeley.

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