Touching Lives - March 2005
Repairing spinal cord injuries
A major problem faced by neurologists caring for those with spinal cord injury is that damage to the brain and spinal cord cannot be repaired by the body. Therefore, patients with spinal cord injuries can suffer a loss of sensation or are paralysed for the rest of their lives.
The only way to bring back muscle control and sensation is to make the nerve fibres regrow down the spinal cord. This does not happen spontaneously because, although the nerve fibres try to regrow, they are blocked by the scar tissue that forms around the injury.
Trio of grants
With a grant worth £116,000 researchers led by Professor James Fawcett at the Cambridge University Centre for Brain Repair are working on this problem. In fact, ^Professor Fawcett has received 3 grants from Action Medical Research since 1993 to work on treatments for spinal injuries, representing a total investment of almost £250,000.^
With the help of this previous Action Medical Research funding, the team developed an enzyme treatment that digests components of this scar tissue, allowing some nerve fibres to regrow into the spinal cord. But before this treatment can be given to patients, the researchers need to find out how best to administer it, when after injury it should be applied, and whether it should be given together with other treatments. This is the focus of the current grant.
Hope at last
Professor Fawcett told us “Scientists have worked hard to produce reatments for paralysed patients with spinal injuries for many years, but it has proven extremely complicated. At last some treatments such as our enzyme treatment are being prepared to enter clinical trials. We are very hopeful that at last we will be able to offer paralysed patients a treatment to improve their condition.”