Strategies for Repairing the Injured Spinal Cord
Associate Professor. Stuart Hodgetts is the Director of the Spinal Cord Repair Laboratory in the School of Anatomy, Physiology & Human Biology at the University of Western Australia.
Transplanting cells to repair spinal cord injury (SCI) is one approach that has recently been tested on animals with demonstrated functional improvements. Important factors crucial for the effective repair of the injured spinal cord are; (a) minimising of nerve cell death and secondary degeneration; (b) ‘saving’ undamaged nerve tissue and promoting growth of new nerve tissue at the injury site; (c) facilitating nerve growth and tissue repair in acute and chronic injuries. A/Prof Hodgetts is exploring the use of multipotent, purified adult human mesenchymal precursor “stem cells” (hMPC) taken from the bone marrow to promote tissue repair in rats with acute and chronic SCI.
It is now believed that a combined approach holds most promise. This consists using anti-scarring agents to counteract the scar that forms after SCI, as well as strategies targeting the immune system to improve the survival of donor stem cells. In addition, we are also examining gene therapy approaches using growth factors, as well as non-invasive strategies such as red/near infrared irradiation and transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.
These studies, funded chiefly by the Neurotrauma Research Program of Western Australia (NRP) show the current state of strategies being researched in the Spinal Cord Repair Laboratory at the University of Western Australia.
The Neurotrauma Research Program is a West Australian funding scheme that supports research into the devastating consequences of traumatic injury to the brain and spinal cord.
Since 1999, the NRP has secured funding from the State Government, including the Road Safety Council's Road Trauma Trust Fund, which contains the proceeds of speeding fines.
The NRP’s mission is to support projects that help the community to avoid trauma to the nervous system, explore therapies to minimise nerve damage and restore normal neural function. The ultimate goal is to ensure that no-one has to live with permanent disability from spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury.
The NRP hopes to continue to assist researchers with their vital work in the long term with the vision that a permanent Neurotrauma Research Centre of International standing will evolve, making it possible for Western Australia to retain its position at the forefront of this exciting and rapidly progressing sphere of science and technology.