Anthony Russell, a professor at the University of Calgary, and his colleague, Tim Higham from Clemson University in South Carolina, observed movement in gecko tails after they were severed and were inspired to explore possible ramifications and applications to humans paralyzed by complete spinal cord injuries. The professors noted that there is a great similarity between the neural cells in gecko tails and neural cells in human tailbones. Complete spinal cord injuries refer to injuries in which the spinal cord has been completely severed.
Russell noted in the article that the severed gecko tails moved somehow without physical connection or communication from the brain. He was quoted as saying, ‘Something in the tail is saying to the tail, ‘˜Lets use this muscle to move a lot, then take a break, then move again.’ ‘
He speculated that the movement in the tail arises as a response to environmental stimuli such as temperature or pressure, which elicit a response in the muscles without prompting from the brain. Humans also reportedly experience movements in their paralyzed limbs after spinal cord injuries.
Other studies released last week reported that rats with severed spinal cords were able to walk on treadmills and support their own weight after a combination treatment of drugs administered below the spinal cord injury, locomotor training, and electrical stimulation.
The movement in severed gecko tails could hold further secrets behind how movement can occur without direct communication from the brain. These studies move scientists and doctors ever closer to a cure for paralysis. The basic implication of the rats studies and gecko observations is the hypothesis that movement is not completely dependent on messages from the brain.
The two professors, Russell and Higham, hope to inspire and collaborate with doctors and scientists on potential research into spinal cord injury applications of their knowledge and observations.
Integration between observations of various professors and scientists with research data and knowledge gathered by surgeons and researchers holds a potential key toward medical advances far beyond the prospects and possibilities presented in singular isolated studies. Integrated thinking across disciplines may lead to more holistic approaches to research and disease prevention, and give realistic hope to those currently suffering from irreversible paralysis.
(pic from herper.com/)