British scientists are developing a treatment which could allow damaged nerve fibers to regenerate within the spinal cord.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have identified a bacteria enzyme called chondroitinase, which is capable of digesting molecules within scar tissue to allow some nerve fibers to regrow, according to the BBC on Sunday.
Spinal injuries are difficult to treat because the body cannot repair damage to the brain or spinal cord. Nerves could regenerate, but they are blocked by the scar tissue that forms at the site of the spinal injury.
The enzyme also promotes nerve plasticity, which potentially means that remaining undamaged nerve fibers have an increased likelihood of making new connections that could bypass the area of damage, said the report.
Preliminary tests show that combining chondroitinase with rehabilitation produces better results than using either technique alone. However, trials have yet to begin in patients.
"Chondroitinase offers us hope in two ways: firstly it allows some nerve fibers to regenerate and secondly it enables other nerves to take on the role of those fibers that cannot be repaired," lead scientist James Fawcett was quoted as saying.
"Along with rehabilitation we are very hopeful that at last we may be able to offer paralyzed patients a treatment to improve their condition," he added.
In Britain, there are more than 40,000 people suffering from spinal injuries, which can cause anything from loss of sensation to full paralysis.
(Xinhua News Agency February 18, 2008)