Everyone knows the tragic story of Christopher Reeve and his brave journey through quadriplegia, due to a neck injury while horse riding. He became a model hero; a true “super man”.
The world knows too of his patient endurance with the stoic certainty that a cure for his condition would be found. He put his faith in stem cells. It still hasn’t happened. Reeve died in October 2004.
The final answer could now have been found and could be far simpler than complex and dangerous stem cell therapy. It starts with our good friend, the laboratory rat. This may offend a few people, so if you are of sensitive disposition, please hit your BACK key! (it’s a joke: I expect you instead to honor the animals in this series of experiments and realize we may live far better, through their small tragedies).
The fact is that rats have been used to pioneer a revolutionary nerve healing technique that could change everything about nerve trauma and may even, conceivably, lead to the repair of spinal cord injuries.
That would be something!
The rats had their sciatic nerve severed, which meant they could no longer walk. But in this case the new treatment approach gave them back 60% of their function in just 2 weeks. This contrasts with, at most, 30% recovery with existing methods… and that only after many months.
Actually, the rats began to move their damaged limb within minutes of waking up after the operation and 98 per cent of them had recovered 60 to 70 per cent of leg function within two to four weeks.
You can see their remarkable recovery by watching this 30-second video: http://bcove.me/y65sg1f9 Don’t go there yet; let me explain what you are going to be seeing.
The problem facing trauma doctors is that natural healing tends to seal over the damaged nerve endings. This sealing process means nerves cannot rejoin. It starts quickly and within hours it’s too late to intervene successfully.
Technically what happens is that tiny spheres called vesicles repair each of the two cut ends. But if they do so before the two ends can be brought back into contact, the vesicles simply seal the two stumps off, making it difficult to create a connection between them later on.
But if calcium is excluded from the injury site, the vesicles don’t form and the body’s self-repair process is aborted. So in the first step, researcher George Bittner of the University of Texas at Austin and his team injected the injury site with a calcium-free salty solution to prevent the self-repair mechanism from kicking in. This displaces the body’s own calcium at the wound site.
The team then squirt in a little polyethylene glycol (PEG) between the severed nerve ends. It removes water from the outer, fatty membrane of each nerve stump, allowing the fats in the membranes to merge together again and reconnect the two nerve ends – the starting point for proper healing.
In other words, it’s a kind of glue!
Bittner’s team has successfully deployed the procedure in 200 trials in rats on peripheral nerves such as the sciatic nerve.
Now, take a look at the video and I think you’ll agree there is exciting potential for many people with paralysis of limbs. It won’t work for stroke though, which is not caused by severed nerves.
In the video, you’ll see crushed nerve; crush plus PEG, crush plus PEG plus the anti-calcium solution and, to make it fresh, a nerve is deliberately cut and then immediately rejoined, with the treatment included.
That’s last and shows around 80% recovery. The “sham” is just the control rat.
It’s too early to say but this might even have possibilities for severed or damaged spinal cord injuries. I just know, if he had lived, Christopher Reeve would have been watching this story with more than a little interest.
[SOURCE: Journal of Neuroscience Research, DOI: 10.1002/jnr.23022 and 10.1002/jnr.23023]