A Nosey Solution to Spinal Cord Injuries

A cure for spinal cord injuries has eluded doctors and researchers for decades but a solution may have been right up our noses the whole time.

A group of researchers from Wroclaw Medical University pioneered a groundbreaking new cell transplantation technique.  It was performed on Raquel Siganporia, a stabbing victim who lost the function of his legs, and allowed him to walk again regain some bladder, bowel and sexual function after six months of intense rehabilitation. This gives hope to the 20,000 Australians that live with some form of spinal cord injury.

 

What is the cure?

Olfactory bulbs viewing the brain from the bottom (Image credit: Laura Dahl [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr
Olfactory bulbs viewing the brain from the bottom (Image credit: Laura Dahl [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr
The surgery involves extracting the patient’s olfactory bulb, a part of the brain important in detecting smells, and isolating a specific type of cells called olfactory ensheathing glia (OEG). The glial cells were then cultured and purified before being implanted across the site of injury using many micro-injections. These olfactory ensheathing glia play a supportive role for olfactory neurons, promoting their growth and regeneration.

Why does this technique work?

The premise of this innovative technique is the olfactory neurons’ ability to regrow. Since they are exposed to the outside environment, olfactory neurons are often damaged by chemicals, bacteria and viruses and therefore are replaced every 6-8 weeks. This capacity to regenerate so quickly is a unique ability among neurons.

Why doesn’t the spinal cord grow back itself?

The spinal cord is the communication system between the brain and the rest of the body. It requires an extremely precise arrangement of neurons in order to function correctly. If neurons could grow and divide, these pathways would get muddled up which is why these neurons once in place, do not grow. This why the unlike many other parts of the body, the brain and spinal cord cannot repair itself when damaged.

What does this mean for people with paralysis?

The researchers warn that this is not a panacea or a perfect cure for every person living with paralysis or a spinal cord injury. Raquel underwent months of extremely intense neurorehabilitation therapy regimes which can be unfeasible for many people living with paralysis. Moreover, Raquel had a clean severing of his spinal cord which was relatively simple compared to many other causes of paralysis including spinal injuries from car crashes and damage to the brain itself in strokes or traumatic brain injuries.

But this doesn’t mean that this research isn’t a giant step forward in the field of reparative medicine. It shows those who are affected by spinal cord injuries that their injuries may not permanent and progress is being made by leaps and bounds.

Why is it so revolutionary?

Most people don’t realise that spinal cord injuries don’t just lose movement and sensation in their limbs, they also lose control of their bowels, bladder and sexual function.

Many paraplegic patients, that have paralysis of their legs, report that they would prefer regaining their dignity by being able to control of their bladders and bowels over walking again. This new surgery is revolutionary as it potentially allows them to have both.

While this technique is not a complete cure it is an outstanding proof of concept. It shows that spinal cord injuries can be repaired and that people with paralysis can regain motor function and continence with this type of procedure. More research will be conducted to improve the procedure and hopefully help restore function in more complex spinal cord injuries.

 

For more information about paralysis and spinal cord injuries visit

Spinal Cord Injuries Australia at https://scia.org.au/


2 Responses to “A Nosey Solution to Spinal Cord Injuries”

  1. wesleyw says:

    Thank you Ruth! there is a lot of promise in this technique but currently just for simple clean-cut spinal cord injuries, it will be great to see how this technique improves over time to help more complex injuries and begin to reduce the amount of post surgery neurorehabilitation required to restore function of the spinal cord.

  2. Ruth de Jager says:

    Wow, this is really exciting. I never knew that olfactory neurones regenerated that quickly. It will be really interesting to see how these treatments progress. Hopefully they’ll become more common in the future.

    What an amazing breakthrough. Thanks for sharing!