Using a new method to promote nerve regeneration after spinal cord injury, researchers were able to restore bladder function in paralyzed rats.
This success may help future efforts to find ways to restore bladder and other body functions in people with spinal cord injuries, the researchers said.
Scientists have long experimented with nerve grafts as a way of reconnecting nerves at the spinal cord injury sites but coaxing the cells to grow and form connections capable of transmitting nerve signals has proved difficult.
In this study, U.S. researchers used a chemical that promotes cell growth along with a scar-busting enzyme to create a more hospitable environment for the nerve graft at the spinal injury site in adult rats.
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Their results appear in the June 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience
"Although animals did not regain the ability to walk, they did recover a remarkable measure of urinary control," study co-author Jerry Silver, of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, said in a journal news release.
Bladder control is a basic function that many spinal cord injury patients rank as one of the most important to regain following their injury, according to the news release.
"This is the first time that significant bladder function has been restored via nerve regeneration after a devastating cord injury," study co-author Yu-Shang Lee, of the Cleveland Clinic, said in the release.
Although the findings of the new study are promising, scientists note that research involving animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.
Although much more research is required before this type of therapy can be tested in people, these findings offer "great hope for the future of restoring bladder function to spinal cord injury patients," Elizabeth Bradbury, a spinal cord injury researcher at King's College London, said in the news release.