Scientists at Glasgow University are working on a treatment to rebuild the damaged spinal cords of people paralyzed by spinal injuries – by using cells taken from the patient’s own nose.
The researchers have been given a £322,000 grant by the Medical Research Council to develop studies which could help patients “rebuild” the nerve circuits in their spinal cords.
This could help to restore some feeling and control to paralyzed limbs and organs.
And they hope the same approach could also help people with other diseases of the nervous system like multiple sclerosis.
Neuroscientists Dr Susan Barnett and Dr John Riddell plan to use stem cells from a special layer of tissue in the lining of the nose to “plug the gap” left when a spinal cord is damaged.
The cells then create a framework through which the nerves in the spinal cord can regenerate.
The nerves in the nose which provide the sense of smell are unique because they continually regenerate, unlike nerves in the spinal cord and other areas of the brain.
Previous studies by the Glasgow group and others have shown the olfactory cells in the lining of the nose can partially correct some models of spinal cord injury by promoting the growth of nerves.
But Dr Barnett warned a complete cure which would see affected people walking again through nerve regeneration was a very long way off.