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Spinal Cord Fiber Regeneration Could Help Stroke Victims

A new study published in Stroke, by a team at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI found that a regenerative process involving damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord could hold the key to better recovery for stroke victims.

Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in adults. While many stroke victims recover some ability to voluntarily use their hands and other body parts, nearly half are left with weakness on one side of their bodies. And, a substantial number of stroke victims remain permanently disabled.

The Study

It is still somewhat of a mystery how the brain and nerves repair themselves, so discovering a treatment option to improve or restore motor function in stroke patients is exciting. The researchers at Henry Ford focused on how the nerve signals in the spinal cord affect voluntary movement after a stroke by using some genetically modified mice. The mice were trained to use their left front paws to retrieve food pellets, and were tested on how well they could walk on an uneven grid. One group of mice had their carotid arteries blocked to mimic how a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain during a stroke, and after blood flow was restored, nerves carrying messages from the brain to the spine were severed. The remaining three groups were given no surgery or “sham” surgeries to use as a control group against the first. 

The Results

The food and dexterity tests were given three days after surgery and then weekly for the next three weeks. While all the animals showed improvement two weeks after their surgery, the best recovery was among the mice who did not have their nerves severed.

The improvements in movement could be attributed to reduced brain swelling after the trauma, and the reorganization of nerve cells within the spinal cord in response to changes in the nerve network could result in further, later improvement. Yi Li, M.D., a Henry Ford neuroscientist and lead author of the study says, “Remodeling in the spinal cord may provide a treatment target to develop rational therapeutic approaches to enhance neurological recovery for the mass of chronic stroke patients.”

If a treatment to regenerate these spinal fibers can be developed, it would address the single biggest concern of stroke victims, as well as those with chronic spinal cord damage - regaining arm and hand function. 


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