The first of these studies, Peripheral Nerve Re-Routing has been performed on hundreds of patients and has shown some success. The second study, by Stephen Davies of the University of Colorado, is still very much in the research stage but does show much promise. If his method is perfected, spinal cord injuries may be healed very near to pre-injury function, perhaps even for chronic SCI.
1. Peripheral Nerve Re-Routing
Who: Dr. Shaocheng Zhang, Shanghai, China
The Theory: A nerve coming out of the spinal cord (above the injury) is re-routed to a muscle below the injury. This will restore some function to said muscle. Imagine you’re in your living room listening to your radio when the outlet it is plugged into stops working. What do you do? Run an extension cord from another outlet to your radio. That’s one easy way to visualize Peripheral Nerve Re-Routing.
Results: These surgeries have actually been around in some form for about the last 100 years. While not a “cure”, they do have the potential to offer SCI patients a better quality of life. For example, some respiratory function is able to be restored in patients with C1-4 injuries. C5-9 patients have had some arm and/or hand function restored. Lower SCI patients have even had some leg functions restored and are able to walk with the aid of crutches or other devices.
2. Suppression of Scar Formation & Spinal Cord Regeneration
Who: Stephen Davies, Ph.D., University of Colorado
The Theory: Severe spinal cord injury causes inflammation and lack of a certain type of cell (glia) where the nerve fibers are severed. The brain deals with this by immediately causing very dense scar tissue to form at the ends of these fibers. The injured fibers have already sprouted in an attempt to close off the gap and heal, but are blocked by the scar tissue. Stephen Davies’ research concerns preventing and/or reversing the process of scarring and promoting proper healing of the nerve fibers.
Results: Studies so far have been limited to rats but have shown great promise. Davies’ and his colleagues have discovered that a naturally occurring protein, called decorin, is highly effective at suppressing inflammation, therefore reducing the formation of scar tissue. In rats, decorin infusions permitted rapid growth of nerve fibers across injuries in just four days! In order to be truly successful the decorin therapy will need to be part of a combination therapy involving something similar to stem-cells (to restore glia).