Alilain WJ, Horn KP, Hu H, Dick TE, Silver J.
Functional regeneration of respiratory pathways after spinal cord injury.
Nature. 2011 Jul 14;475(7355):196-200.
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Researchers led by Professor Jerry Silver at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, have made an important breakthrough in spinal cord injury research.
They used two strategies to try to restore function to adult rats with a spinal cord injury. The injury was made at the highest part of the spinal cord, where breathing is controlled (equivalent to a broken neck in humans). First, they transplanted a piece of nerve taken from the leg of the animal into the spinal cord, attaching it above and below the injury so that injured nerves could regenerate along this nerve and bypass the injury. Second, they administered an enzyme (called chondroitinase ABC), which breaks down molecules that accumulate in high amounts around injured areas of tissue and stop nerves from regrowing. This was administered to either side of the transplanted nerve and allowed regenerating nerve fibers to grow out of the transplant and into the spinal cord, where they could make useful connections with spinal cord cells.
With this therapy, the ability to breathe was restored. This is groundbreaking work which could potentially lead to a restorative therapy that could help spinal injured patients.
There are a number of challenges before this therapy can be brought to the clinic. For example, we need to make the chondroitinase enzyme safe and stable, and find a way of delivering it for long periods of time and in enough quantities to treat the much larger human spinal cord.
This is a remarkable advance which offers great hope for the future of restoring function to spinal injured patients.