More than 250,000 people in the U.S. are suffering from long-term spinal cord injuries, with more than 11,000 new occurrences taking place each year.
One study appearing in the July 12th issue of the Journal of Neuroscience appears to be on the right track towards providing evidence that a combination of treatments could lead to regeneration of nerve endings in spinal cord injured patients. The result would be a return of functional activity.
John Houle, Ph.D., is Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Dr. Houle, who is the senior communicating author in the co-authored study, has demonstrated in a lab animal how a nerve removed from the leg and transplanted across a spinal cord injury, in combination with enzyme digestion of scar material, leads to regeneration of injured nerve endings and recovery of arm movements.
According to Dr. Houle: "This study represents a major milestone in the battle to return spinal cord injury patients to a state of mobility, however there is still a lot of work to be done to adapt this procedure to human use."
A significant aspect of this study is that this process applies to animals that are newly injured as well as in animals with long-term injuries because of the ability to use the implanted nerve bridge to direct regeneration towards a specific target area in the spinal cord.
A second facet of the study is the ability of the specific enzyme, chondroitinase, to modify scar tissue to reduce its normal inhibitory nature, and thus facilitate growth beyond the bridge. The safety of this enzyme for human use has already been proved. Dr. Houle and colleagues next will address whether this therapeutic treatment strategy is adaptable for use in larger experimental animals and in conditions of a chronic injury.