Spinal Cord Repair As A Marvel Of Medical Research

2010-05-12 | |
Last updated: 2010-05-12

What Gains Have Been Made In Spinal Cord Repair?

While we are still some number of years away from being capable of truly repairing damaged spinal cords, the last two decades have resulted in a far greater rate of progress toward the goal than had occurred previously.

At one time medical science understood that the nerves in the spine were arranged in the same way as wires within a cable, independent wires running parallel in isolation, but relatively recent research has determined that not to be the case. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles identified that the central core of the spinal cord is actually able to reroute nerve signals to avoid damaged areas.

Preventing Scar Tissue Formation In The Spinal Cord

The finding was important because it suggested that given the right amount of restored connectivity, the spinal cord could heal and rewire itself. However, an important problem that interferes with this natural rewiring is the tendency of the body to generate scar tissue at the site of an injury. Scar tissue unfortunately interferes with nerve regrowth.

In an effort to promote more effective healing and restoration of spinal nerve function, researchers from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center injected the rodents at the site of the spinal injury with a common body chemical involved in healing. The chemical, called hyaluronic acid, is involved in movement of cells, control of inflammation and control of scar tissue generation. If the chemical sounds familiar, it is because it is also an ingredient in a number of “anti-aging” skin creams.

Improving Healing Of Spinal Tissue

What the researchers found was that the substance formed a scaffold for new nerve cells to migrate into. At the same time, the hyaluronic acid limited scar tissue formation allowing for greater reconnection of nerves on the two sides of an injury. The result was those rats involved in the study were able to regain far more mobility than animals that did not receive the same treatment.

Working at the cellular level, other research is also finding ways to enable better healing of the spine. Researchers have discovered that a chemical called polyethylene glycol (PEG) helps to seal off injured areas and enable cells to recover. Unfortunately, the substance has toxic side effects as the body breaks down the chemical.

To work around this, researchers at Purdue University are using targeted nanoparticles to carry the PEG to the site of injuries in order that far lower doses can be given to accomplish the same job. The lower doses reduce the problems of toxicity while allowing the PEG to do its job.

In efforts with the same goal of achieving safer delivery of PEG, but using a different approach, researchers from the same University also used a material called chitosan, made from shrimp shells. What they found was that chitosan was able to target and repair the membrane of cells and some structures within the cell. Within 30 minutes of having been treated with the chitosan, the damaged cells were again able to begin transmitting nerve signals. The hope is that in future research, the combination of nanoparticle delivery, PEG and chitosan can be used to provide far more effective healing.

Pages: 1 2 3

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Disease Information, Health Risks, Medical Research

Comments are closed.