Researchers report that gene therapy restored the mobility in mice with completely severed spinal cords. The mice were able to regain the ability to walk with walking patterns similar to mice who naturally regain walking ability after partial spinal cord injuries. The new gene therapy used techniques to repair spinal cord tissue and also direct the repairs so mobility could be restored. Partial damage in human and mouse spinal cords can cause initial paralysis, but it can be followed by recovery of motor functions, something that cannot happen in complete spinal cord injuries, where the patient remains paralyzed. To regain motor neuron function after an injury, specific axons need to regenerate and reconnect to their natural targets. The research team activated the neuron growth to regenerate its nerve fibers, used proteins that would support the growth of the neuron through scar tissue, and used guidance molecules to attract the regenerating nerve fibers to their natural targets.
While studies done in animals do not always pan out to humans, the results of this study make it hopeful that we are closer to completing a solution for completely treating spinal cord injuries. While it's expected that gene therapy may need to be used with electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, it is exciting to think that with both these approaches there is a possibility that the regrown nerve fibers and the spinal cord below the injury could produce movement.