For the first time in history, scientists have recorded the reconnection of severed long spinal nerve fibres. This has huge implications for the future of research into spinal injury.
Through cell therapy, followed by intensive rehabilitation over a period of more than two years, the scientists nsif supports have been able to restore assisted walking and some sensation to one patient.
At the moment, there are indications of improvement in bladder, bowel and sexual function. These are under investigation. There are encouraging signs, but the scientists cannot be certain at this point where these will lead.
There is no research as yet that suggests spinal injured people could make a complete recovery and return to their condition before the injury, but the latest breakthrough suggests their quality of life could be vastly improved.
The major loss of function in spinal cord injury is due to the severance of the long fibre tracts that carry impulses from the brain to control voluntary movement and bodily function, and up to the brain to transmit sensation. Once they have been severed, these fibre tracts do not repair themselves. However, spinal injured people do show improvements with time and rehabilitation. The degree of improvement differs greatly between patients and is hard to predict. With time, the rate of this improvement slows, and eventually stops.
This improvement is a result of the undamaged parts of the spinal cord “relearning and reorganising”.
The research nsif funds attempts to restore function over-and-above this “natural” recovery, and actually repair those damaged fibre tracts. This is done through a surgical procedure which involves moving special cells (olfactory ensheathing cells) from the patient’s own olfactory system into the site of injury. These act as a “bridge” over which the damaged connections can grow back. So far this is showing remarkable promise.
**Source: World Health Organization