November 22, 2007

Stem Cell Therapy for Paraplegics May be Near

picture of SupermanOur beloved superhero, the Superman, played by Christopher Reeve is no more. He fell from a horse and damaged his spinal cord in the process. As a result he got paralyzed and was restricted to the wheelchair. He could have recuperated if only the cut ends of the spinal cord were repaired. He was a staunch advocate of stem cell research.

It is now known that the spinal cord harbors stem cells, cells capable of differentiating into nerve cells (essentially all types of cells). So where have the stem cells gone? In adults, a molecule called netrin1, directs the stem cells away from an injury. Modifying the behavior of netrin1 may help in the recruitment of stem cells and their much needed transformation into neural elements. Simple grafting is impracticable, as cross connection may spell doom. Auriculotemporal (Frey syndrome) is one example where faulty neural connection gives rise to unpleasant symptoms. Moreover, the nerves and their synapses are so spatially oriented that correct axial positioning is next to impossible. For example, neurexins are molecules which are found in the synaptic terminals, which plays a pivotal role in the alignment of a synapse. They form connexions with neurexin receptors situated in the post synaptic neurons and thus guides the presynaptic terminal. The neural networking is indescribably complex.

Finding a solution through netrin1 may be of immense benefit not only in spinal cord injury but also in diseases like cerebrovascular accident (CVA/ Stroke).

Again, the brain-computer interface robots being developed by researchers, based on 'thought controlled devices' are becoming a reality. These humanoids may one day enable paraplegics to be able to move freely in their wheel chairs, command computers or TV stations remotely and in other day to day activities.
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