Restoring function after spinal cord injury, which damages the connections that carry messages from the brain to the body and back, depends on forming new connections between the surviving nerve cells. While there are some delicate surgical techniques that reconnect the nerves, researchers are also looking at ways to restore the connections themselves at a cellular level.
With a five-year, nearly $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, is using novel methods to take a closer look at how these nerve cells grow and make new connections to reroute signals between the brain and the body that could restore function and movement in people with these debilitating injuries.
“There have been a lot of studies where researchers have shown recovery in partial spinal cord injury models, but no one understands at a cellular level which cells are responsible for rewiring or forming the new connections,” Sakiyama-Elbert said. “If we want to make regeneration more efficient and potentially translatable to humans where it is more challenging, we need to understand what’s actually going on at a cellular level.
“Once we determine which cells are making connections, we can determine how to transplant more of those cells or try to stimulate tissue-specific stem cells to make those types of neurons and form these types of connections,” Sakiyama-Elbert said.
Read the full story by Beth Miller at News Wise LINK.