More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Protective Tube Helps Regrow Severed Spinal Nerves

CHICAGO (Reuters Health) Aug 29 - A polymer tube inserted into the spinal columns of paralyzed rats seems to foster the regrowth of nerves, restoring some hind-leg function, Canadian researchers report. Although much more work needs to be done, they believe the device could prove to be a whole new way of treating spinal cord injuries in humans.

"We know the rats improved. What we have to do now is figure out how significant the improvement is," Dr. Molly Shoichet, from the University of Toronto, explained in an American Chemical Society statement. She presented her team's findings here Tuesday at the society's annual meeting.

Dr. Shoichet's team of chemical engineers speculated that nerve cells in the spinal cord might be induced to grow if provided with a nourishing, protective environment. Testing this theory, they developed a hydrogel tube filled with chemicals designed to promote nerve cell regeneration.

The researchers inserted the tube into the spinal columns of rats. The tube was placed in the gap between the severed ends of the spinal cord. According to Dr. Shoichet, the neurons inside the tubes soon displayed axonal growth.

Paraplegic rats appeared to regain at least some hind-leg function. On a standard functionality scale of 0 to 21 (with 21 being perfect function), the previously paraplegic rodents scored anywhere from 8 to 11, according to Dr. Shoichet.

"We're definitely not there yet," she told meeting delegates. Although neurons are growing, they appear to need more "guidance" before they can close the gap to form a stronger, more reliable neural pathway.

The Toronto team believes that further guidance might be provided by the insertion into the tube of a scaffold made up of tiny fibers. Laboratory experiments using this type of scaffolding have been "encouraging," Dr. Shoichet said, with neurons sending out axons to average lengths of over 12 millimeters.

The next step, Dr. Shoichet said, is to implant scaffold-bearing tubes within paralyzed rats and then watch for signs of even greater improvement.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd