Spinal cord injuries might soon be on the good list. Hey everybody, I’m Trace, and you’re plugged in to DNews — When human nerves are damaged, they don’t regenerate. Regeneration is different from healing. Healing leaves scars, but regeneration returns the tissue to the pre-injured state. We’re relatively low on the regenerative scale — our skin, toes, fingers, ribs, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and smooth muscles are all able to heal or regenerate.
Nerves, neurons, skeletal muscles and the heart all grow to a certain size and stop. Some of the most devastating injuries involve long-term trauma and paralyzation of these non-regenerative tissues. When nerves in the spinal cord are severed, the brain’s commands never reach the muscle. It’s like losing power to your house because of a downed power line during a storm, but in humans, we didn’t USED to be able to put that line back up… what if we could now? Lower vertebrates like the sea lamprey have regenerative nerves and spinal cords.
Why do THEY get all the luck?! Their brains are itty bitty! Well, it has to do with a growth factor affecting reticulospinal neuron cells in their brain stem. The cells transmit messages on movement, and when University of Missouri researchers hit the cells with a natural molecule called cyclic AMP — the cells would begin to grow! Cells which were already growing ignored the cyclic AMP! No side effects! Researchers have been looking for factors like this which appear in humans as well, hoping we’ve GOT them, but our DNA had switched them off for some reason.
A study in Nature Communications found just that! A protein called P300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF) seems to kick off the regeneration in mice. With this discovery, we might be able to regrow nerve cells in human peripheral nervous systems. When researchers introduced PCAF, epigenetic factors switched on the regeneration mechanisms in the cells causing 30% of the nerves to grow back! Epigenetics, for those who don’t know, is a process that can switch genes in the body on and off without altering actual DNA strands. This discovery is one more step on the way to re-growing spinal cords after injury, but it’s only part of the battle… ANOTHER study in the Journal of Neuroscience released this week uses gene therapy to fight spinal injury.
Researchers knew the enzyme (kon-droit-en-ase) chondroitinase ABC (ChABC) will digest scar tissue on nerves but administering it to the spine was very painful and the enzyme dissipated quickly — so repeated treatments were necessary. So, they taught the cells to produce their own using gene therapy! Gene therapy involves injecting a reprogrammed retrovirus into the spinal cord cells to alter cellular DNA — in this case, it programmed the spinal cord to release ChABC itself! Thus, with only ONE INJECTION of ChABC, the cells began to produce their own.
The study was done in rats and TWELVE DAYS LATER they were up and walking around, with scar-free spinal cords. Sounds like a miracle, but it’s just science. Let’s get this in humans, okay? How do you feel about this? Excited for the future? Tell us below and subscribe for more awesome stories about your world, every day of the week. Come find us on Twitter if you have questions!
Keywords: Spinal injury, spinal cord, spinal cord law, Spinal cord attorney, spinal cord law firm