A recent study has found that by applying gene therapy they could restore mobility in mice with completely severed spinal cords. It was previously shown that nerve fibers could be regenerated across anatomically complete spinal cord injuries, but this did not restore motor function, as the new fibers failed to connect to the right places on the other side of the lesion. Analyses of mice with severed spines revealed that specific axons (thin fibers that connect neurons) needed to regenerate and reconnect to their natural positions to restore motor function. The team of researchers activated growth in these axons and regenerated nerve fibers, even through scar tissue, by promoting specific supporting proteins. With the help of guidance molecules, the regenerated nerve fibers are able to be directed in a way that restores the spine to a state similar to before the injury. The repairing process did not show full recovery after complete spinal severance, but the mice were as mobile as those with more minimal spinal injuries. This means with more medical developments full mobility restoration is not completely out of the question. In fact, it is hypothesized that multipronged gene therapy could restore spinal injuries more fully. However, one must keep in mind that research in animals does not always pan out in humans. Senior researcher, and co-head of NeuroRestore, Grégoire Courtine had this to say about the research: “We expect that our gene therapy will act synergistically with our other procedures involving electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. We believe a complete solution for treating spinal cord injury will require both approaches — gene therapy to regrow relevant nerve fibers, and spinal stimulation to maximize the ability of both these fibers and the spinal cord below the injury to produce movement."
I find this research to be very promising for serious spinal injuries and partial spinal injuries alike. While having the ability to walk is an advantage to that of being wheelchair-bound, I also believe that if minor spinal injury recovery can be improved, researchers may be able to develop a therapy that would restore complete bodily autonomy. I also wonder what gene therapies may be capable of being developed to improve brain function for patients with neurons damaged in their heads. It seems the possibilities may be endless as long as funding for similar research continues, who knows how many lives could be saved with this research as a launch pad.