One area of spinal cord injury research scientists have been targeting in force for a while now is myelin. Myelin axons act as insulation around the spinal cord. When an injury occurs, they are scattered throughout the injury site, making it very difficult for the spinal cord to communicate with the brain. Doctors still aren't quite sure how to repair this. They do know that when scattered, they sadly cause further damage to the spinal cord.
That is exactly what Yi Ren, a professor of biomedical sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine, wants to find out. She is spearheading a study that looks at the natural immune system response to a spinal cord injury. Post-injury, she found that it even may be responsible for inflicting harm to the spinal cord in the first weeks of the person's injury.
The body's natural response to the injury site, with the myelin scattered everywhere, is to inflame the area. Specifically, Ren and her team found that the inflamed area is then filled with microphages, which are white blood cells and dead cells that stay in the injured area for months up to years. This is because the spinal cord, where the injury has occurred, is inflamed, which means the body instinctively wants to heal it. This is where the microphages come in, however researchers still are not 100% sure about everything they can do.
They do know one thing about them - if an uncontrolled inflammation is ignored and is allowed to continue, it exacerbates secondary side effects of a spinal cord injury and can even limit mobility return.
"Clearing myelin debris generated at the time of injury is critical in controlling the inflammatory response and to ensuring neural regeneration," said Ren in her research report. “We know that myelin debris acts as an inflammatory stimulus that exacerbates secondary injury by activating other cells in the injured spinal cord that are actively involved in inflammatory responses during disease progression.”
Additionally, Ren said that if the myelin generated at the time of the injury was cleared away asap, they found that the inflammatory response to the spinal cord injury would be a lot less, “ensuring neural regeneration.” This is quite an interesting revelation. Researchers always knew that Myelin played a huge part in recovering from a spinal cord injury, but now they see it plays a more important role than anyone realized.
Ren said they hope one day their research will be used on humans to help them regain lost mobility and sensation.
Written by Spinal Cord TeamSpinalCord.com has been created as a resource for patients of spinal cord injuries and their families. Find everything you need to learn more about your injury, locate a doctor or treatment center, or discover financial relief to support you through this difficult time.
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