Latest breakthrough in spinal cord repair
Head of Spinal Injury, Raquel Siganporia, was interviewed on Sky News commenting on the recent breakthrough in spinal cord injury and repair.
A group of research scientists recently released a series of videos demonstrating this breakthrough. The videos show paralysed animals that have been ‘healed’ by the groundbreaking technique. The technique involves chemical treatment to fuse together severed nerve fibers in the spinal cord which has enabled some movement in animals.
The study took place under the guidance of researchers from Korea and the USA. They were supervised by Professor Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon. The clinical study shows how a fully severed spinal cord can be mended by the use of special substances called ‘fusogens’.
In the first experiment, 5 of a total of 8 mice with severed spinal cords who were treated with the chemical regained some ability to move. The researchers state that this suggests the chemical had helped to fuse the severed nerve fibers. This in turn allowed signals from the brain to reach the limb once again.
In a second experiment, the chemical was combined with tiny graphene ribbons. The researchers claim that these ribbons act as ‘tracks’ to ensure the two ends of the spinal cord grow towards each other. A rat treated with the combination technique was able to walk again after two weeks.
The final experiment involved a dog. The dog had damage to his spinal cord similar to a stab wound in a human. In this instance the dog regained the ability to move within 3 weeks and was also able to wag his tail.
Plans for the future
The research is an interesting development in the area of repairing spinal cord injuries. However, the primary purpose of the research was not to investigate ways of repairing the spinal cord for those who are paralysed. Rather, the research is to be used as a basis to apply for permission for the first human head transplant in history to be undertaken.
How will this news be received by those who have a spinal cord injury?
Raquel Siganporia is herself paralysed and head of spinal injury at Bolt Burdon Kemp. Raquel is also the Senior Vice-chair for the Spinal Injuries Association.
Raquel believes that this is an interesting development in spinal cord repair, however she is cautiously optimistic.
In particular the study only notes a return of motor function and doesn’t resolve the full myriad of issues that those with spinal cord injuries have to deal with. These include bladder and bowel dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, as well as neuropathic pain.
Therefore although this research is a positive move forward, she recommends current injured people receive the news cautiously. The research is still at an early stage and to date has only been tested on a small number of animals. It is therefore a long way from being a proven treatment for all spinal cord injured people.
Raquel supports research into spinal cord injury and is encouraged to hear of the developments. However in her experience of acting for clients who sustain a spinal cord injury they value having bladder and bowel function over the ability to walk again. Ideally what injured people want to see, is research which returns both function as well as sensation to spinal cord, as well as techniques which help reduce pain and restore bladder and bowel function. It is in Raquel’s view vital that developments combine to repair all of these elements of spinal cord injury and not just one aspect. By doing so it will further help spinal cord injured people to live independent and fulfilling lives.
In the meantime, charities such as the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) are available. The SIA supports those who are spinal cord injured and their families, both in hospital and at home, as they rebuild their lives.
Raquel Siganporia is a Partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp and heads up the Spinal Injury team.
Raquel has previously discussed the various aspects of spinal cord injury on Daybreak, ITV news as well as a previous appearance on Sky News.
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