Is this a cure for paralysis?
by BEEZY MARSH, Daily Mail

femail.co.uk - 1st December 2003

An experiment which has reversed paralysis is being hailed as a major breakthrough for people disabled by neck and back injuries.

In a world-first, scientists have repaired a rat's severed spinal cord using nerve endings from inside its nose.

Neurosurgeons said last night that the UK research offers the best chance yet of a cure for patients such as Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who severed his spinal cord in a fall from a horse.

There is hope that hospital trials, to replicate the work in paralysed patients, will start within the next year to 18 months. The discovery, reported in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, centres on the use of nerve endings in the lining at the top of the nose which give us our sense of smell.

Scientists used these nerve endings, which are the only ones in the body to renew themselves every 30 days, to inject a 'bridge' between the two sides of a severed spinal cord.

Nerve fibres from within the cord - which control movement and breathing - crossed the pathway and began to regrow.

Dr Geoffrey Raisman, neurobiologist from the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said: "This procedure allows spinal nerve fibres to regrow in a way which has not been thought possible."

Initial experiments on the rats found that paralysis, which causes loss of limb movement and an inability to breathe leaving hospital patients reliant on a ventilator, was reversed.

Dr Raisman, who pioneered the spinal cord repair after 30 years of research, said: "Nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord do not replace themselves in the way that skin or bone do.

"The one exception is nerve cells we use for our sense of smell.

"They repair and regrow into the brain every 30 days and we retain our sense of smell throughout our life.

"Within these cells are a special type of 'pathway' cell and it is these which we used in our experiments to build a bridge between two parts of a severed spinal cord."

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and charitable Norman and Sadie Lee foundation, examined the ability of the rats' nasal nerve cells to repair their partially severed spinal cords.

Dr Raisman added: "I have been working in this direction all my life and I never expected we would get this far.

"We now believe that human trials would be worthwhile."

An estimated 400,000 people in Britain live with a spinal cord injury, which can cause varying degrees of disability.

The worst damage often occurs high up in the neck, as in the case of Christopher Reeve.

Many have suffered falls from horses or motorbikes, or had rugby accidents. They are often young and face the rest of their lives in a wheelchair or on a ventilator.

Neurosurgeon Professor Alan Crockard, of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, said: "One of the terrible tragedies if someone becomes paralysed in this way is that we have to say there is no way they will recover.

"One of the things that has defeated us up to now has been the apparent inability of the brain or spinal cord to repair itself.

"That is why the scientific and clinical community and the National Hospital are convinced this experiment provides for the first time something which may be useful to the injured spinal patient."

Professor Crockard said that the first human experiments were likely to use patients who had lost the use of one or more of their limbs through a partial severance of the spinal cord.

Paul Smith, director of the Spinal Injuries Association, welcomed the findings, but warned patients against setting their hopes too high.

"If this is not a false hope then it would be great news, but we would hate people to think that they are going to get an immediate cure from this," he said.

"It needs properly conducted trials to test safety and efficacy."

b.marsh@dailymail.co.uk



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