Every year, over 12,000 Americans suffer from a spinal cord injury. Depending on the location of the injury, it can severely hinder an individual’s ability to function normally in everyday life. The most common injuries are higher neck injuries, which often affect an individual’s ability to communicate, breathe, eat and see.
For decades, scientists have been attempting to figure out how to repair such injuries. Recently, neuroscientist James Silver of Cleveland made a breakthrough in his research of spinal cord injuries.
Silver, an avid gardener, tried to think of re-growing nerves in a spinal cord like growing plants in a garden. He had the idea that if he could provide a sort of trellis for damaged nerves, they might have a better chance to grow.
The trellis or “neural graft,” appeared to work when placed around the damaged area of the spinal cord of rats. It was soon realized that although the experiment was providing a bridge for nerves to regrow, the body was not providing the right environment.
According to researchers, when damage to the spinal cord occurs in the body, it releases chemical protein enzymes which stop bacteria from creating an infection in the area. Unfortunately, these chemicals are also debilitating for nerves trying to regrow. To overcome this obstacle, researchers in the project came up with the idea to inject a chemical from bacteria to the site of the wound, which would keep the protein enzymes from creating an hostile environment for nerve regeneration.
After two months of testing, activity in the damaged area started to come back. Within three months, activity was bustling. This breakthrough will bring hope to those individuals suffering every day from spinal cord injuries.
Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Cleveland researchers use experimental nerve ‘bridge’ to restore breathing in rats with spinal cord injuries” by John Mangels: July 13, 2011