In 1995, when Christopher Reeve fell from his horse and broke two vertebrae in his neck, the doctors originally thought there was little hope of any recovery, but over time, he proved to be a true superman. He regained sensitivity to touch and pin prick and had some muscle movement -- including in his lower large intestine.
Anyone sustaining such an injury today may be able to look forward to a far more robust future. Northwestern University researchers, working on mice, have discovered how to stimulate bioactive signals that cause damaged cells to repair and regenerate. The result is regeneration of damaged ends of neurons and protection of surviving neurons; decreased scar tissue; reforming of insulation for signal-transmitting cells called myelin; and encouragement of blood vessels to form at the injury site.
A single injection of a liquid that turns into a gel-like network of nanofibers was administered into the tissue around the spinal cord of paralyzed mice. Four weeks later, the animals were walking normally. The gel biodegrades and then is cleared from the body after several months with no side effects.
The researchers say they are "going straight to the Food and Drug Administration to start the process of getting this new therapy approved for use in human patients, who currently have very few treatment options." So, if you or someone you love is battling with the aftermath of a spinal cord injury, stay tuned for information on when this might be available either in a clinical trial or as a prescription.
King Features Syndicate