Jerusalem — Actor Christopher Reeve said Wednesday that his optimism about recovering from a catastrophic spinal injury had been boosted by meeting disabled Israelis and the country's cutting-edge medical researchers.
The former "Superman" star, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since a horse-riding accident in 1995, is in Israel this week to study the country's treatment of spinal injuries and meet Israelis injured in terrorist attacks.
Reeve said his encounter with a young man who'd recovered the ability to walk after undergoing pioneering surgery developed at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science "renewed my hope and optimism."
"It's the most extraordinary case of recovery I've ever seen in a human being," the actor said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Reeve came to fame as the "Man of Steel" in four Superman films made from 1978 to 1987.
Since his accident, he has established a foundation that gives grants to paralysis sufferers and helps fund spinal-injury research.
Reeve, 50, who requires round-the clock care and breathes with the help of a respirator, has consistently expressed hope he will walk again.
Research into spinal injuries, he said, "is moving by leaps and bounds ... Old barriers are falling on a regular basis."
Five years after his accident, Reeve surprised doctors by regaining some movement in his right wrist, left fingers and both legs.
In March, he underwent surgery to have electrodes implanted in his diaphragm, a procedure that allows him to breathe for periods without a respirator.
He said he was encouraged by research at the Weizmann Institute into macrophages -- "scavenger cells" that can help cleanse the site of an injury, allowing healing to begin.
Israel also is a major center for stem cell research, which many scientists believe could be used to treat a vast array of conditions, from spinal injury to diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
However, stem cell research has been restricted in some countries because obtaining the cells involves destroying a human embryo. U.S. federal law prohibits government funding of research that results in the death of an embryo, and Reeve has been critical of the U.S. stance.
"I think the United States is not leading the world in the area of stem cell research, and it could be, and in my opinion it should be," Reeve said.
Israel has no law regulating embryonic stem cell research.
Reeve, who arrived in Israel Monday for a five-day trip, has visited research institutions and facilities for the disabled.
On Wednesday, he met President Moshe Katsav and visited Jerusalem's Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Reeve's visit is a rarity for a country many international celebrities have avoided during almost three years of violence.
Reeve said people around the world were "holding our breaths and hoping there'll be peace after so many centuries of conflict."