Mice success bodes well for Spinal Cord Injuries

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In what researchers have described as a medical first, mice with spinal cord injuries have had their ability to breathe restored. The breakthrough is likely to herald similar trials on humans, which the charity Spinal Research believes could be life-changing.

Damage at the top of the spinal cord can interrupt messages to the layer of muscle which assists breathing. For this reason, many people with damaged spinal cords are unable to breathe without ventilators.

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However, a report in the journal 'Nature' showed that breathing could be restored by way of a nerve graft coupled with a protein. Such long-distance regeneration techniques, whilst normally good for arms and legs, had shown limited success with the spinal cord, which is notoriously difficult to repair.

"Long-distance regeneration has remained elusive in the field of spinal cord injury repair," says Spinal Research's Dr Mark Bacon. "To achieve this and at the end of it establish functional connections that actually restore breathing is remarkable."

Of some 800 spinal cord injuries sustained in the UK each year, around half are in the neck, with most patients suffering impaired breathing. A damaged spinal cord will scar, whilst chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan molecules stop nerves from repairing and forming new connections.

For the mice, a nerve graft was used to bridge the scar, with an enzyme injected to attack the inhibiting molecules.

Three months after the procedure, tests on the mice showed an 80-100% recovery in their breathing function, a rate of success which researchers hope to repeat in similar treatment for humans - a situation with profoundly optimistic implications for sufferers of back injuries.

"The success of the nerve-grafting initiative for mice is clearly positive news and further research should be encouraged," said Neil Fearn of Simpson Millar LLP's Serious Injury Team.


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