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Spinal Cord Regeneration

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Spinal Cord Regeneration
Nerve Cell

Nerve Cell

Credit: Cell Image Library

Spinal Cord Regeneration

Scientists at King's College London in England announced that they have successfully regenerated sensory nerve fibers back into the spinal cord of rats. This was an astonishing breakthrough as prior to this research, damaged sensory nerves were not able to grow back into the spinal cord.

In and of themselves, nerve cells are able to regenerate but the central nervous system has a barrier that prevents this regeneration. So called neurotrophic factors allow nerve cells to regenerate. With the help of these factors, nerve cells can overcome the inhibitory barrier and regenerate. Testing a variety of factors, the researchers were able to restore some sensation with two of the factors. These factors were infused into the cerebrospinal fluid and the rats regained sensation for pressure as well as heat.

Until this study, many in the scientific community thought that the central nervous system's "intrinsic" barrier was insurmountable. This study demonstrated three key findings:
  • From an anatomical standpoint, it is possible to grow nerve fibers back into the spinal cord.
  • The nerve fibers are able to reconnect with nerve cells.
  • The ability to "feel" can be regained.
The next phase of the study will delve into the relative amounts of the neurotrophic factors that need to be infused for optimum nerve regeneration. The researchers will also seek to determine if the neural pathways can be sustained over longer periods of time.

The researchers are optimistic that their findings will one day allow humans with sensory nerve damage to "feel" again. They also believe that "theoretically" the results could be applied to other types of nerves and perhaps even to muscle regeneration.

NEXT > Severed Spines

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