Spinal Cord Injury – Some hope is on the horizon

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Researchers in America believe that they have made a breakthrough in the treatment of spinal cord injury. For the first time they have managed to induce the regeneration of nerve connections which control voluntary movement after a spinal cord injury. This offers some hope of potential new treatments for paralysis and other motor function impairments caused by spinal cord injury.

A team of professors from different US research centres has identified a 'cell growth inhibitor' called PTEN. By blocking PTEN in mice with a spinal cord injury, they were able to detect some nerve regeneration – a very promising result.

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"Until now, such robust nerve regeneration has been impossible in the spinal cord," said Oswald Steward, anatomy & neurobiology professor and director of the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at UCI. "Paralysis and loss of function from spinal cord injury has been considered untreatable, but our discovery points the way toward a potential therapy to induce regeneration of nerve connections following spinal cord injury in people."

The results of spinal cord injury – often paralysis – occur because of the interruption in connections between the brain and spinal cord. Even an injury roughly the size of a grape can cause a complete loss of function below the level of the injury.

"These devastating consequences occur even though the spinal cord below the level of injury is intact," Steward noted. "All these lost functions could be restored if we could find a way to regenerate the connections that were damaged."

The research is at a very early stage and Professor Steward and his colleagues will spend many more years in the lab to discover whether they can offer some solid hope of treatment for people paralysed by spinal cord injury.

But for now that glimmer of hope is there and perhaps, maybe in the next decade or so, people who have suffered a spinal cord injury may have many more options open to them than are available today.

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