Progress Made in Spinal Cord Injury Research

Is science on the verge of revolutionizing treatment for spinal cord injuries? Researchers in San Diego might have discovered a way to do what was previously thought impossible: to train nerves to properly regenerate themselves.

Researchers from UC San Diego were partially successful in restoring damaged nerve connections in lab rats. This discovery could be a major step toward repairing severed spinal cords, which could eventually lead to a reversal of paralysis.

The spinal cord is composed of nerve fibers called axons, which connect neurons and carry signals between them, allowing communication between the brain and nervous system. Serious back and neck injuries often result in paralysis because the axons do not normally mend themselves naturally. This research has shown that if they are attached to the right places the severed wires, or axons, will regenerate.

Axons can be damaged or destroyed in spinal cord injuries. This causes communication between neurons to be interrupted, possibly leading to sensory loss and paralysis. The researchers have shown that by using a biological chemical, the nerve’s axons or fibers could be guided to their proper targets. The chemical, called neurotrophin-3, steered the wires the correct way. This supported the formation of nerve connection points, or synapses.

Two other treatments were used at the same time: A cell graft was placed across the spinal cord injury site to encourage the young axons to grow; the scientists then stimulated genes in the injured neurons to expand axon growth.

The researchers’ success was only partial because the new neural connections did not have a myelin sheath. The myelin sheath helps in the passing of electrical signals between the brain and the nervous system. The new connections proved to be effectively inactive because they lacked a myelin sheath.

Though not a complete success, the work of the San Diego researchers may provide hope to the more than 5.6 million Americans suffering some form of paralysis. Spinal cord injuries account for about 23 percent of paralysis victims.

People who have been injured or paralyzed as a result of another’s negligence are entitled to be made whole in whatever manner is available. The research into spinal cord injuries is promising but still in its infancy. If or when the science achieves complete success, the treatment will be very expensive. People without financial means have a right to the best treatment available. An experienced law firm can help them, and others, receive this treatment.