A special report in the online edition of The Anatomical Record has put together a collection of articles on the subject of spinal cord injury repair in animals. Spinal cord injury affects millions of people and, until now, has left them with little hope of living a normal life. However, recent research has begun to suggest that maybe stem cells - primitive cells that can turn into specific cell types - could repair the damage involved in such disabling injuries. Researchers from the Loyola University in Chicago are now focusing the studies upon cells called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). OECs are the cells that form a sheath around the axons of the first cranial nerve (the nerve leading directly from the brain to the nasal cavity).
Researchers have created a 'cell line' of OECs in the laboratory, which divides indefinitely, forming a source of cells for repair of spinal cord injury. These OECs were then introduced in rats which had had spinal cord injury. The researchers found that there was significant improvement in their functioning. This could mean that researchers are now at the helm of a milestone in spinal cord repair that, with further research, could benefit the millions suffering from spinal cord injuries.