Popular Science Magazine
In a dramatic step toward better treatments for multiple sclerosis and paralysis, researchers at Yale University have repaired damaged spinal cords in rats.
In a healthy body, nerve fibers are insulated by a protein called myelin that enables them to conduct electrical signals at up to 400 miles per hour. Multiple sclerosis destroys this myelin sheath throughout the brain and spinal cord, slowing nerve impulses to mere baby steps, causing numbness and loss of motor skills.
In rats, whose spinal cords were partially stripped of their myelin coatings, injections of Schwann cells, cells that myelin taken from amputated human limbs restored nerve firing to near normal levels. "That could mean the difference between sitting in a wheelchair and using an assisted-walking device," says Jeffrey Kocsis, who led the Yale team.
Clinical trials with human patients may begin as early as this month, when surgeons, transplant Schwann cells, taken from a patient's own ankle into a multiple sclerosis lesion in the brain. Twenty-five years ago, it was almost a joke to talk about repairing nerve fibers in patients," says Kocsis. But that idea is no longer a fantasy.
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