Tiny nerves taken from the rib cage, fortified with a powerful growth inducer and transplanted in the spinal cord significantly reversed paralysis in rats with spinal cord injuries.
That’s the finding of a study in the October issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma.
The study shows that nerve cells can be inserted and stimulated to grow in damaged areas of the spinal cord, and the discovery may lead to improved treatments for people with spinal cord injuries.
Using this method, researchers from the University of California-Irvine (UCI) and the Long Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center were able to partially restore hind leg movement in rats with severed spinal cords.
“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,” says Dr. Vernon Lin, a professor of physical medicine at UCI and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Group at the Long Beach V.A.
“Regeneration is considered very difficult because the damaged area apparently inhibits growth of new nerve-cell connections. 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,” Lin says.
The growth inducer used in this study, a molecule called aFGF, is found in most nerve cells.
The rats with severed spinal cords that received both a FGF and the nerve grafts were able to move their hind legs and could support some of their weight on those legs after treatment. Rats that received either a FGF or nerve cell grafts alone had nearly no improvement, the study says.