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Spinal cord bridge bypasses injury to restore mobility

The body's spinal cord is like a super highway of nerves. When an injury occurs, the body's policing defenses put up a roadblock in the form of a scar to prevent further injury, but it stops all neural traffic from moving forward.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Drexel University and the University of Arkansas bypassed this roadblock in the spinal cord. First, the researchers regenerated the severed nerve fibers, also called axons, around the initial large lesion with a segment of peripheral nerve taken from the leg of the same animal that suffered the spinal injury. Next, they jump started neural traffic by allowing many nerve fibers to exit from the end of the bridge. This was accomplished, for the first time, by using an enzyme that stopped growth inhibitory molecules from forming in the small scar that forms at the exit ramp of the bridge, where it is inserted into the spinal cord on the other side of the lesion. This allowed the growing axons to reconnect with the spinal cord.

Jerry Silver, a professor of neurosciences at the Case School of Medicine, was senior author among the researchers reporting in the Journal of Neuroscience article, "Combining an Autologous Peripheral Nervous System 'Bridge' and Matrix Modification by Chondroitinase Allows Robust Functional Regeneration beyond a Hemisection Lesion of the Adult Rat Spinal Cord." The other researchers were John Houle, the lead author, and Veronica Tom (a Case alum) from Drexel University College of Medicine; and Gail Wagoner and Napoleon Phillips from the University of Arkansas.

The researchers employed a combination of two strategies--one old and one new--in efforts to regenerate nerves in the spinal cord and restore movement, said Silver.

For more than 100 years, researchers have used grafts of peripheral nerves from the rib area or parts of the leg. While peripheral nerves can be used successfully as grafts in the limbs, spinal cord injuries
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Source:Case Western Reserve University


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