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Spine repair allows rats to breathe again

14 July 2011

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Category: Research & medical benefits

rat–lab–scientist.jpgInjuries that damage the spinal cord at the top of the neck can damage the nerve connections between the respiratory centre in the brain and the diaphragm muscles that we need to breathe normally. Patients with spinal cord injuries in the neck often need mechanical ventilators to help them breathe but if the patients is not treated immediately after the accident impaired breathing can lead to death.

This type of injury is usually permanent as the adult spinal cord nerves do not usually regrow and reconnect after damage. Working in a rat model of spinal cord injury, scientists have shown that molecules naturally produced after injury prevent regeneration.

They went on to use an enzyme, chondroitinase, to digest these molecules. They also used peripheral nerves as grafts across the damaged section of the spinal cord. This combination treatment led to a significant recovery of respiratory activity in the rats after axons regenerated and re-connected across the damaged area.

This study suggests that restoration of breathing may be possible after some types of spinal cord trauma.

Read more about spinal injury on our sister website here.