The right connection
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The nerve tissue in our spinal cord consists of billions of nerve and glial cells. They are connected to a complicated network and make us move or feel something. This network is very sensitive. A spinal cord injury kills many cells around the site of injury; and for example communication to the leg muscles collapses.
To put it simply, many scientists are working to restore healthy connections. In various experiments, they have found that so-called neural precursor cells (NPCs) are particularly well suited for this purpose. NPCs are descendants of stem cells. If you transplant them into the injury sites, they can make new connections.
Connect the right places
But that's only half the battle. Crucial for whether and to what extent cross-sectional injured get back lost functions depends primarily on whether the cells also connect to each other in the right places.
Scientists from California have now discovered a crucial piece of the puzzle. They have found out that it is extremely important a. from which point in the spinal cord the precursor cells are removed and b. where to transplant them. [Attention, now it gets more complicated.] If, for example, you want to restore the function of the dorsal horn in the spinal cord in the best possible way, you should also remove the progenitor cells from the back of the spinal cord. Then, according to the researchers, the cells fit in particularly well. Even the injured nerve cells recognize these structures and grow into the corresponding areas.
This research project by Prof. Mark Tuszynski and his team is still at an early stage and there is still a lot to be done before therapy could develop. We are still enthusiastic :-)
Find more exciting projects Wings for Life is funding here