Scientists have found a way to repair damaged fibers in the spine that don't recover from significant trauma, which could be an important step toward reversing some forms of paralysis.
A team from Imperial College London, England, was able to stimulate regeneration of axonal fibers in the spine of mice three months after they suffered a devastating spinal injury that left them unable to walk. These fibers have no regenerative properties and will regenerate.
Although the mice were unable to regain the ability to walk, this is the first time doctors have been able to repair these fibers in the spine, paving the way for further research into repairing the damage caused by spinal cord injury.
An estimated 300,000 Americans suffer from spinal cord injury, with about 18,000 cases reported each year. Although physical therapy and other treatments can help a person gradually regain some function, there are no reliable ways to repair an injured spine and cure paralysis.
In a study published in the journal PLOS, scientists tested whether the molecule TTK21 could be used to activate axonal regeneration in mice suffering from damage caused by spinal cord injury.
Each of the mice was treated for ten weeks, half with TTK21 and the rest with a control drug.
After the treatment was completed, the researchers found that new axons were sprouting in the spinal cord.
Axons are the fibers that are responsible for transmitting signals and impulses between nerve cells.
When they are damaged, the body can no longer transmit signals from the brain through the nervous system, making it impossible to perform motor functions.
Axons do not regenerate when damaged, so injury to the nervous system - and especially to the spinal cord, where many of the nerves are connected to the brain - is irreversible and destructive.
Despite axonal growth, paralyzed mice did not regain the ability to walk or show actual improvements in motor function, but the researchers hope that TTK21 may provide a basis for future treatments for paralysis.