Nerve cells regrown after spinal cord injury
After a spinal cord injury, it's all about taking baby steps. A team of scientists from the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve Medical School have successfully restored bladder function to rats who had suffered severe spinal cord injuries. The team used a new technique to regenerate nerve cells across the site of injury, resulting in the first time an animal has been able to urinate normally after a spinal cord injury. While the animals did not regain the ability to walk, being able to urinate again is a significant step.
After a spinal cord injury, the nerve cells in the brainstem are disconnected from nerve cells in the spinal cord, meaning messages cannot be delivered from the brain to the muscles. The body naturally responds to the injury with inflammation, causing scar tissue to form at the site of the injury. While this protects against further damage, it ruins the chance of restoring nerve function. However, the researchers in this study were able to take healthy nerves from another part of the rats' bodies, graft them onto the damaged area of the spinal cord and add chemicals that promote cell growth and disrupt scar formation. The results showed a re-growth of some brainstem cells across the injury site, which allowed for control over bladder function.
Being able to urinate again would be a big improvement in the quality of life for humans who have suffered spinal cord injuries. Many patients, in fact, rate that as one of the functions they most want to regain after an injury.