According to the World Health Organisation, up to a half-million people around the world suffer a spinal cord injury each year. Often caused by road traffic crashes, accidents or violence, the loss of motor control or paralysis significantly impacts quality of life and requires years of treatment and care. Spinal cord injury is also associated with lower rates of school enrollment and economic participation, and carries substantial individual and societal costs.
Current methods for spinal cord injury treatment involve cumbersome brain-machine interfaces, with many cables linking the patient and a computer to restore limited motor functions.
In a collaboration led by EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland and UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) in the USA, scientists have now understood the underlying biological mechanisms required for severed nerve fibers to regenerate across complete spinal cord injury, bridging that gap in mice and rats for the first time.
The adult mammalian body has an incredible ability to heal itself in response to injury. Yet, injuries to the spinal cord lead to devastating conditions, since severed nerve fibers fail to regenerate in the central nervous system. Consequently, the brain’s electrical commands about body movement no longer reach the muscles, leading to complete and permanent paralysis.
Modern medicine has still not managed to crack the problem of spinal cord injuries that result in significant paralysis or loss of functional status.
There are numerous factors that influence the inability to restore movement or autonomous bodily control to these patients. A prominent example of these is the inability to cultivate new neurons that make up and power the spinal cord.
However, some researchers have claimed that they have successfully induced ‘generic’ human stem cells to differentiate into stem cells that apply more specifically to the spine.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) commonly results in paralysis from the injury site down, even when the spinal cord hasn’t been severed completely. The remaining nerve cells that might bridge the gap appear to switch off, resulting in total loss of muscle control and sensation. Scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have now identified a small molecule drug that effectively reactivates the signaling pathways between these remaining nerve cells and the brain, restoring walking ability in mice that had been paralyzed by SCI.
Spinal cord injuries are among the most severe and difficult-to-treat medical conditions, usually resulting in permanent disability including loss of muscle function, sensation and autonomic functions. Medical research is now on the cusp of treating severe spinal cord injuries by inducing the repair of spinal nerves, and scientists have made strides in recent years with rodents and primates.
Using chitosan loaded with neurotrophin-3 (NT3), a collaborative of Chinese medical researchers now reports the successful treatment and subsequent functional recovery of rhesus monkeys with induced acute spinal cord injuries.
Neurology – Spinal Cord Introduction
Why build something from the ground up when one can just renovate an already existing structure? Essentially, that’s what researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis had in mind when they developed a method for transforming adult human skin cells into motor neurons in a lab. They published their work in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Researchers grew human spinal cord neurons from stem cells and injected them into healthy mice, where they successfully connected with other neurons.
Discovery could be key to treating brain and spinal cord injury
A foray into plant biology led one researcher to discover that a natural molecule can repair axons, the thread-like projections that carry electrical signals between cells. Axonal damage is the major culprit underlying disability in conditions such as spinal cord injury and stroke.
Andrew Kaplan, a PhD candidate at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University, was looking for a pharmacological approach to axon regeneration, with a focus on 14-3-3, a family of proteins with neuroprotective functions that have been under investigation in the laboratory of Dr. Alyson Fournier, professor of neurology and neurosurgery and senior author on the study.
‘Spinal tap’ saving crash victims from life in a wheelchair: Breakthrough nerve-preserving procedure could...
Spinal injury victims could be spared from paralysis thanks to a breakthrough nerve- preserving procedure developed by British doctors. It is the first treatment to tackle inflammation of the spinal cord, which can occur in the hours and days after an accident, causing irreversible damage.
Given in these crucial hours, the ‘spinal tap’ procedure works by reducing the pressure build-up within the spinal column caused by swelling and so preserves vital nerve function.