Scientists at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and at the Cleveland Clinic were able to restore bladder function in rats with completely cut spinals cords, according to HealthDay. The study is the first time in which significant bladder control has been restored through nerve regeneration after a SCI.
The scientists utilized new methods, such as a chemical that promotes cell growth and a scar-busting enzyme, to create a more hospitable environment for nerve regeneration at the SCI site on the adult rats. In the months-long effort by the scientists, nerve fibers slowly grew across gaps that were the width of a pencil, and reconnected. Although the rats did not regain the ability to walk, they regained the ability to urinate almost normally. The scientists borrowed nerve tracts from the rats’ chests and spliced them into the severed cords.
The study, which is published in the June 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, could help in future efforts to find ways to restore bodily functions in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI). However, scientists note that more research is required before therapy of this scale can be tested on humans. They also state that research conducted with animals often fails to produce the same results in humans.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that about 273,000 Americans have permanent spinal cord injuries. Approximately 18 percent lack feeling or movement in the area below the chest or waist, and 12 percent are fully paralyzed from the neck down. Many do not have control over some bodily functions, such as urination.
The scientists must be able to show that their method can work in larger animals with longer distances between nerve fibers before attempting the therapy on humans, according to the Plain Dealer. Additionally, future research will need to show that the nerve regeneration technique can work on old spinal injuries, which present different challenges than newer spinal injuries.