Researchers Partially Regenerate Spinal Cord in Rats

Researchers at King’s College London reported in Nature that they had managed to restore movement to rats that were paralyzed by injuries to the spinal cord.

Normally spinal cord cells do not regenerate for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that following an injury, scar tissue forms in the spinal cord which forms a barrier that nerve cells are unable to cross.

Researchers at King’s College used a bacterial enzyme called chondroitinase ABC that destroys molecules in the scar tissue and allows nerve cells a pathway to grow back.

Dr. Elizabeth Bradbury, who led the research, told The BBC,

After damage to spinal cord tissue, a complex jungle of molecules is deposited in the scarred area. Chondroitinase ABC acts like a ‘molecular machete’, cutting a path through the jungle of molecules that usually prevent spinal cord nerves growing back into these damaged areas.

When they applied the enzyme to rats, the animals recovered most — though not all — of their pre-injury neurological functioning. The rats were able to walk again, but did not completely recover all functioning in their spinal cord.

What does this mean for the ultimate goal of treating spinal cord injuries in human beings? Restoring neurological function is a complex task that will involve solving a number of distinct, but related, problems. This researcher suggests one approach to soling one of those problems.

As Dr. Bradbury told The BBC,

This is a great advance but not some sort of miracle cure. There are still many other blocks that must be overcome before complete spinal cord repair can be achieved in humans. In terms of treating people, we could see clinical trials involving this treatment as part of a multi-targeted therapy starting within the next five years.


Severed spinal cord regenerated. The BBC, April 10, 2002.

Leave a Reply