Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spinal Cord Injury Regeneration Hope

Scientists believe they are close to a significant breakthrough in the treatment of spinal injuries.

The University of Cambridge team is developing a treatment which could potentially allow damaged nerve fibers to regenerate within the spinal cord.

It may also encourage the remaining undamaged nerve fibers to work more effectively.

Spinal injuries are difficult to treat because the body cannot repair damage to the brain or spinal cord.

Although it is possible for nerves to regenerate, they are blocked by the scar tissue that forms at the site of the spinal injury.

Scientists believe they are close to a significant breakthrough in the treatment of spinal injuries.

The Cambridge team has identified a bacteria enzyme called chondroitinase which is capable of digesting molecules within scar tissue to allow some nerve fibers to regrow.

The enzyme also promotes nerve plasticity, which potentially means that remaining undamaged nerve fibers have an increased likelihood of making new connections that could bypass the area of damage.

Boosts rehabilitation

In preliminary tests, the researchers have shown that combining chondroitinase with rehabilitation produces better results than using either technique alone.

However, trials have yet to begin in patients.

Lead researcher Professor James Fawcett said: "It is rare to find that a spinal cord is completely severed, generally there are still some nerve fibers that are undamaged.

"Chondroitinase offers us hope in two ways; firstly it allows some nerve fibers to regenerate and secondly it enables other nerves to take on the role of those fibers that cannot be repaired.

"Along with rehabilitation we are very hopeful that at last we may be able to offer paralyzed patients a treatment to improve their condition."

'Ground-breaking'

Dr Yolande Harley, of the charity Action Medical Research which funded the work, said: "This is incredibly exciting, ground-breaking work, which will give new hope to people with recent spinal injuries."

Paul Smith, of the Spinal Injuries Association, said medical advances meant that spinal injuries had ceased to be the terminal conditions that they often once were, but they still had a huge impact on quality of life.

However, he warned against raising expectation before the treatment was fully tested on patients.

He said: "What often happens in a clinical setting is that you don't get to see the results you would have liked."

In the UK there are more than 40,000 people suffering from injuries to their spine, which can take the form of anything from loss of sensation to full paralysis.

The average age at the time of injury is just 19.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Read the Full Post!
 

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Could a Spinal "Bypass" Reverse Paralysis?

A breakthrough in spinal surgery yesterday offered hope to victims of paralysis.

The technique, which has been tested on rats, involves bypassing damaged tissue in the spine.

This allows signals to travel across injured areas, New Scientist reports.

Dr John Martin and his colleagues at Columbia University in New York have so far tested the procedure only on rodents. They selected a motor nerve branching from the healthy cord above the injury and cut it away from the abdominal muscle to which it is normally attached.

They then stretched the free end across the injured section of spinal cord and used a protein "glue" to fix it.

Two weeks later the team found that the graft had sprouted new extensions which had begun to form connections - or synapses - with the motor nerves in the isolated lower spine.

Zapping the spinal cord above the injury made the lower limbs of the rats twitch - showing motor signals had started once again to pass along the entire length of the spine.

The researchers say removing the nerve from the abdominal muscle did not appear to cause any major side effects and suggest this is because nearby nerves pick up the slack.

Fellow neuroscientist Dr Reggie Edgerton, of California University, said the approach had considerable clinical potential but added that it was too early to tell whether it would work in humans.

Dr Marie Filbin of the City University of New York cautioned that it may not be possible to "reprogramme" a nerve that normally connects to an abdominal muscle to transmit the sophisticated signals needed to produce fine, controlled movements.

But Dr Martin, who presented his study at the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Program Symposium, said: "What we want to do is plug in new connections to bypass the damaged region."

He believes that - with a little surgical assistance - spinal cord nerves above an injury could be capable of making such connections with nerves lower down the spine.

He said: "We know the nerves can make new connections to muscle so we asked whether it's possible for them to also connect with spinal cord neurons isolated through injury."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Read the Full Post!
 

Friday, February 01, 2008

Stem Cell Scaffold May Rebuild Nerves

A Monash University PhD student has developed a new technique that could revolutionize stem cell treatment for Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury.

David Nisbet from Monash University's Department of Materials Engineering has used existing polymer-based biodegradable fibres, 100 times smaller than a human hair, and re-engineered them to create a unique 3-D scaffold that could potentially allow stem cells to repair damaged nerves in the human body more quickly and effectively.

Mr Nisbet said a combined process of electrospinning and chemical treatment was used to customize the fiber structure, which can then be located within the body.

"The scaffold is injected into the body at the site requiring nerve regeneration. We can embed the stem cells into the scaffold outside the body or once the scaffold is implanted. The nerve cells adhere to the scaffold in the same way ivy grips and weaves through a trellis, forming a bridge in the brain or spinal cord. Over time, the scaffold breaks down and is naturally passed from the body, leaving the newly regenerated nerves intact," Mr Nisbet said.

Mr Nisbet said the existing processes released stem cells into the nervous system where they 'floated' around.

"Our studies show that stem cells anchored to a scaffold not only"
Read the Full Post!