There are three major developments being discussed today in the world of spinal cord injury research:
1. Intra Spinal Micro Stimulation — Alberta, Canada
Dr. Richard Stein of the University of Alberta and his colleagues have been working on an electronic device designed to be placed directly on the spinal cord to assist with walking in SCI survivors. Devices such as this have been around for some time now, but Dr. Stein’s ambition is to create one that records sensory feedback coming from the muscles and nerves in the legs and hips.
Basically, it’s a closed loop system: legs communicate back and forth with the computer. Think of it as an extra “brain” designed specifically to control the lower limbs.
2. Enzyme Dissolves Scar Tissue — Cambridge University
Researchers at Cambridge University’s Centre for Brain Repair are reporting an exciting discovery this week. They have found that a certain bacterial enzyme is capable of digesting portions of scar tissue which will allow some nerve fibers to regrow.
The formation of scar tissue immediately after spinal cord injury is known to be one of the major factors preventing nerve fibers from properly reconnecting and healing.
3. New Nanotechnology — Northwestern University
Now this one feels like something straight out of a science fiction movie! Researchers at Northwester University in Chicago have developed a specially designed gel that is injected directly to the injury site.
This gel does several things to help treat SCI. First, it prevents the formation of scar tissue. Secondly, it re-instructs stem cells in the area to develop into myelin-producing cells, rather than scar tissue as they normally would.
The most amazing property of this gel, however, is that it contains self-assembling nanostructures. Building blocks within the gel assemble themselves to form scaffolds upon which axons are able to grow.