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Tiny nerves from the ribs may restore leg movement in spinal cord injury

Irvine, Calif. -- Paralysis from spinal cord injury was significantly reversed by adding tiny nerves from the rib cage and mixing them with a powerful growth inducer found in most nerve cells, a UC Irvine and Long Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center study has found.

The study, conducted in rats, suggests that nerve cells can be inserted and stimulated to grow through damaged areas of the spinal cord, perhaps leading to better treatments for spinal cord injury. The research is part of a wave of studies challenging the conventional wisdom that severed nerves in the spinal cord are nearly impossible to regenerate. The study appears in the October issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Dr. Vernon Lin, professor of physical medicine at UCI and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Group at the Long Beach V.A., and his colleagues found that grafting nerves from the rib cage and adding the growth stimulator, a molecule called aFGF, partially restored hind leg movement in rats that had their spinal cords severed.

"By using tiny nerves from the rib cage as cables connecting the severed spinal cord, we were able to get some improvement in leg function," Lin said. "Regeneration is considered very difficult because the damaged area apparently inhibits growth of new nerve-cell connections. This study gets us closer to arriving at the right combination of growth factors, nerve cells and physical stimulation that overcome these inhibitions and successfully treat spinal cord injury."

Lin and his team found that 12 rats with severed spinal cords were able to move their hind legs again after treatment with both the aFGF and the nerve grafts, while rats that had either the aFGF or nerve grafts alone showed nearly no improvement. Rats receiving both the growth factor and the nerve cell grafts could support some of their weight on their back legs.

The growth factor aFGF is normally produced in the spinal cord by nerve cells, but scientists s
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Contact: Andrew Porterfield
amporter@uci.edu
949-824-3969
University of California - Irvine
5-Oct-2002


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