Glimmer of Hope for Spine-Injury Victims

It's just in rats for now, but scientists have induced spinal cord regrowth by taking tiny nerves from the rib cage, bathing them in a growth-inducing protein, and then grafting them into the area of the cut spinal cord. "By using tiny nerves from the rib cage as cables connecting the severed spinal cord, we were able to get some improvement in leg function," said Dr. Vernon Lin, a professor of physical medicine at the University of California at Irvine and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Group at the Long Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Lin's study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, suggests that humans with spinal cord injuries could one day soon have improved treatments for their conditions. In the experiment, the growth inducer was a molecule known as aFGF, which is found naturally in most nerve cells.

The rats, all of which had severed spinal cords, were divided into three groups. The one that got both aFGF and nerve implants were able to move their hind legs and, at the end of the study, could support some of their weight on their legs. Rats that received just aFGF improved hardly at all. The same was true for those receiving only nerve cell grafts.

"Regeneration is considered very difficult, because the damaged area apparently inhibits growth of new nerve-cell connections," Lin said. "This study gets us closer to arriving at the right combination of growth factors, nerve cells and physical stimulation to overcome these inhibitions and successfully treat spinal cord injury."


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