Strengthen respiratory function
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People with high spinal cord injury often have difficulty breathing and need special long-term ventilators. Disturbed breathing after a tetraplegia is also the main cause of illness - in the worst case, it even leads to death.
Genetically switch a breathing center
Scientists at the Krembil Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, have now come up with a new approach: The team led by Michael Fehlings discovered that there is a group of inactive neurons in the neck spinal cord that could be “woken up” in an experimental animal model. Thus, sufficient self-breathing could be restored in the acute phase. According to Fehlings, the biggest impact of this work could be that “one day we can flip a switch and improve the breathing of injured people.”
Background knowledge: This newly used circuit consists of so-called interneurons, which are not necessary for breathing in healthy people. The scientists have been able to influence the genetics of these interneurons and thus either switch them on or off.
The discovery of the neural circuit and its potential for therapeutic use is the real sensation of the publication. In addition, scientists are making great efforts to discover additional neuronal circuits in the cervical spinal cord. With the activation of such circuits, the hope is to improve motor functions. For example, one goal would be to restore hand and arm function in patients.
These results were published in the renowned journal Nature.