Science and Tech


Spinal-Injury Treatment Focused On Sticky Scar Tissue

Research from Case Western Reserve University shows promising results for spinal cord treatments thanks to a compound that encourages nerve growth.
Posted at 1:23 PM, Dec 04, 2014

An idea from two graduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio could revolutionize treatments for people with broken and injured spinal cords.

Their mentor, decorated neuroscience professor Jerry Silver, admits he originally thought the students' idea was far-fetched. (Video via YouTube / unite2fightparalysis)

It all comes down to scar tissue, which surrounds an injury in the body. (Video via NBC)

"Sugary proteins" released by the scar tissue make a type of "glue" that discourages nerve cells from growing. One scientist likened the proteins to fly paper that traps the nerve cells.

If the nerve cells don't grow back, people often face paralysis below the injury and a loss of urinary and genital control. (Video via YouTube / unite2fightparalysis)

But the graduate students at Case Western designed a compound that helps the nerve cells avoid the sticky trap of the sugary proteins. They injected it into rats with spinal injuries.

A whopping 80 percent of the rats injected displayed bladder control improvement, movement improvement, or both, according to the study, which was published in Nature.

It's important to remember that all of the rats in the study were newly injured, so the compound might not work as well on older injuries. But those rats who responded, responded well.

Professor Silver told the BBC"What we could see was really remarkable. Some recovered to a fantastic extent and so well you could hardly tell there was an injury."

Current recovery methods for broken and damaged spines are mainly invasive surgeries, usually in the form of nerve transplants, stem cell injections and neurostimulator implants. (Video via ABC)

This treatment would be less invasive, with potentially higher efficacy. 

Researchers says they'll try the compound on larger animals like pigs next before human trials begin. (Video via Case Western Reserve University)

This video includes an image by Michael Dorausch / CC BY SA 2.0 and music from Broke For Free / CC BY NC 3.0.