There are two new groundbreaking developments in paralysis and spinal cord research. These are peripheral nerve re-routing, and suppression of scar formation and spinal cord regeneration.
Peripheral Nerve Re-Routing
Peripheral nerve re-routing entails taking the peripheral nerves above the point of injury, and surgically rerouting them so they are connected to peripheral nerves below the injury site. This allows new functional connections between the brain and previously dormant muscle or sensory system to be created.
Peripheral nerve re-routing has been around for about 100 years, and has been attempted on hundreds of patients with spinal cord injuries. While peripheral nerve re-routing can’t completely cure a spinal cord injury, it can allow for various degrees of improvement. For example, patients with C1 to C4 injuries have experienced improved respiratory function following the procedure, while some arm and hand function has been returned to patients with C5 through C9 injuries. Patients with lower spinal cord injuries have, in some cases, seen improvement in leg function.
Suppression of Scar Formation and Spinal Cord Regeneration
This theory is based on the idea that traumatic spinal cord injury causes inflammation, as well as lack of a cellÃ¢â‚¬’called gliaÃ¢â‚¬’where the nerve fibers are damaged. The result is the formation of a fibrous meshwork of dense scar tissue that prevents axons from regenerating. Suppression of scar formation and spinal cord regeneration is a two-pronged approach designed to reverse the process of scarring and promote the healing of nerve fibers.
During this procedure, scar tissue is suppressed or removed in order to promote axon growth across sites of the injury. Second, a therapy designed to restore glia, such as stem cell therapy, is used to regenerate the spinal cord. While studies in humans is still relatively new, studies on animals have shown significant promise.