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Scientists Coax Nerve Fibers to Regrow After Spinal Cord Injury

on and enzyme treatment, the researchers injected dyes into the nerves to see whether and how many nerve fibers grew from the injured cells of the spinal cord into the transplanted nerve.

Rats treated with one of the three enzymes tested, sialidase, showed well over twice the number of new nerve fibers than rats treated with saline, which is not expected to enhance nerve growth. Moreover, the researchers saw that the new fibers were made by nerve cells residing in the spinal cord.

“We have established that the enzyme sialidase, which destroys one of the molecules that inhibits nerve regeneration, is sufficient to robustly improve nerve fiber outgrowth from the spinal cord,” says Schnaar.

Surgical transplantation of a peripheral nerve to help nerve fiber growth from the spinal cord has shown limited success in humans. “The addition of a new treatment to enhance our current surgical management of brachial plexus avulsion in people would be welcomed by patients and surgeons alike” says Lynda Yang, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan. Dr. Yang, the study’s lead author, helped pioneer the study of ARIs while a doctoral student with Dr. Schnaar at Johns Hopkins in the 1990s.

Having shown here that sialidase can increase the number of spinal cord nerve cells that extend fibers into a transplanted nerve, Dr. Yang now is testing if the nerves re-establish muscle control. “We’re very interested in seeing how much function you can get back,” she says.

According to Schnaar, there is some evidence that this transplant technique coupled with sialidase treatment can coax other, nearby nerve cells within the spinal cord to grow out as well. “Once you rewire, then the brain does an amazing job of sorting it all out,” he says.

Having established the ability of sialidase to improve spinal nerve regeneration into transplanted peripheral nerves, Schnaar and his research
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