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Spinal treatment breakthrough

18th February 2008

A team at the University of Cambridge think they may be near to finding a new treatment which could be used to treat spinal injuries.

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Researchers are working on a project which may let damaged nerve fibres regenerate inside the spinal cord and could help unaffected fibres to operate "more effectively."

Over 40,000 people suffer from spinal injuries in the UK.

Dr Yolande Harley, from the charity Action Medical Research - the funders of the research - said: "This is incredibly exciting, ground-breaking work,which will give new hope to people with recent spinal injuries."

Damage to the spine is very hard to find treatment for, as a body is unable to fix a damaged spinal cord or the brain itself. Even if the regeneration of nerves occurs, scar tissue at the injury's site can cause blockages.

The scientists were able to identify an enzyme known as chondroitinase. This can digest the molecules in scar tissue and lets nerve fibres regenerate.

It also contributes towards "nerve plasticity" which can increase the chance of unaffected nerve fibres being able to form "new connections".

Lead researcher Professor James Fawcett said the enzyme worked on two levels: "Firstly it allows some nerve fibres to regenerate and secondly it enables other nerves to take on the role of those fibres that cannot be repaired."

He added that they hoped that they could soon be able to provide "paralysed patients [with] a treatment to improve their condition."

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