We have all seen people with legs who cannot walk. Others have arms but lack the ability to move them. Yet with all the money spent on medical research, there is still no cure for those who lose spinal cord functionality. The good news is that a potential repair may be on its way.
There exists a connection between the brain and the spinal cord that makes movement of the body possible. Together, the brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). The brain sends messages, and the spinal cord relays those messages to the body. When the spinal cord is injured, it “loses the ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the body’s systems.” The result is the loss of control over “sensory, motor, and autonomic function below the level of injury.”
To treat this lack of communication, scientists at Gladstone Institutes created a neuron from human stem cells. The hope is that the neuron will function as a networking device between the brain and the spinal cord. This type of neurons is called V2a interneurons.
The V2a interneurons created from stem cells do two things in the patient:
- Enhance the signal communication of messages between the brain and the spinal cord; and
- Repair and rebuild the spinal cord by replacing damaged interneurons around the injured part(s) of the cord.
According to senior Gladstone investigator Todd McDevitt, the goal of using the V2a interneurons is to “rewire the impaired circuitry by replacing damaged interneurons to create new pathways for signal transmission around the site of the injury.”
The tests have been tried on mice. When the V2a interneurons were injected into the spinal cord of the mice, the new cells integrated with the existing cells. The mice responded well while showing no signs of harm or handicap.
The question that next comes to mind is whether the V2a interneurons can actually repair damage in the spinal cord after a transplant, giving rise to significant hope that restoring movement post-injury.
With the recent development on V2a interneurons, a major breakthrough in spinal cord treatment may be right around the corner.
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