Researches in Scotland may have developed a treatment for spinal cord injuries that utilizes the body’s own natural resources. The findings, which were discovered by scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, have the potential to manipulate the spinal cord scarring process, which often leads to irreversible paralysis. According to Science Codex,heparan sulfate sugars that are chemically modified could prevent scarring and open new opportunities for spinal cord treatment.
After a spinal cord injury, scar tissue commonly forms and creates an impenetrable barrier to nerve regeneration, leading to irreversible paralysis. Major nerve support cells, called astrocytes, change in shape and stiffness due to injury and form the scar tissue. When Schwann cells are transplanted to repair nerve damage, the cells secrete heparan sulfate sugars, which actually promote astrocyte scarring and potentially reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.
However, the Scottish scientists discovered that chemically modifying these heparins can prevent the scarring reaction. These findings have the potential to improve the effectiveness of cell transplantation therapies and could treat a range of patients who have suffered spinal injuries in car crashes, sports, and serious falls. Professor Sue Barnett from the University of Glasgow explains that since they now understand neural cells secrete complex sugars, which lead to scarring, “we have the opportunity to intervene in this process and promote central nervous system repair.”
Patients who have sustained a spinal cord injury and are at risk for developing irreversible paralysis could greatly benefit from this process. The new method of treatment couldpotentially reduce paralysis in patients, by either slowing down the over-activation of the herapins or stopping it all together.
Any spinal cord injury can be devastating, and the possibility that there might be a treatment to prevent irreversible paralysis could be a huge medical breakthrough. Professor Jerry Turnbull of the University of Liverpool explains that studies in animal cells are now needed, “but the exciting thing about this work is that it could, in the future, provide a way of developing treatments for improving nerve repairs in patients, using the body’s own Schwann cells, supplemented with specific sugars.”