Primates have a hidden ability to repair their own damaged spines
2010-11-15 0:00


For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that primates, including humans, have an innate ability to repair some spinal damage, including recovering from paralysis. The next step is to enhance this ability, so that we can regrow injured spinal nerves.

It’s been known for a long time that people with moderate injuries to the nerves in their spinal cords can sometimes spontaneously recover - regaining the ability to move and walk over time. Now a group of researchers have published a paper in Nature Neuroscience that suggests this may be a trait shared by all primates. Many spinal injuries are followed by fresh nerve growth in monkey spinal cords.

The researchers found that the injured nerves didn’t regrow. Instead, new nerves sprouted in a process called "spontaneous plasticity," essentially routing the spinal column around the injury. This kind of neural sprouting doesn’t occur in rodents, which are the animals that scientists typically use in neuroscience experiments. As a result, nobody had noticed this phenomenon before. This new study may lead to more testing on monkeys, but hopefully it will lead to discoveries that allow all primates to grow new nerve cells in the future.

Read the full scientific paper in Nature Neuroscience.

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