Travis Roy was a promising hockey player, but during the first few seconds of his first college game in 1995 a freak crash left him paralyzed.
Roy has since become an advocate for paralyzed people, and he is excited about the latest study, even though it is only in rats, “I have hope, and that’s a wonderful thing to have in this condition.”
The research was carried out at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, set up by football Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti after his son, Marc, was paralyzed in a college football game.
Dr. Mary Bunge and her team used a combination of nerve cell therapy and drugs to restore leg movement in rats that had been paralyzed with a laboratory-inflicted spine injury, “This is the most important work to come out of my laboratory in the 15 years that I have been in the Miami project.”
The research starts with the observation that nerves in limbs such as the finger can re-grow if they are injured, something that doesn’t happen with nerves in the spine. So, the scientists set to change the conditions in the spine to allow injured nerves to re-grow.
They accomplished it by transplanting nerves that do regenerate into the spines of the rats. They were able to keep the nerves growing with a natural body chemical called cAMP and a drug called Rolipram, and the rats were able to walk again.
The research is still years from helping human patients, but it provides hope for the quarter million Americans who live with spinal cord injuries that the condition will someday be reversed.