Actor Christopher Reeve advocated for more research on spinal-cord trauma, and researchers at Stanford's School of Medicine think they know how to help axons, in other words nerve cells in the spine grow.
For some unknown reason, when the nerves in the spine are severed, a fatty substance called myelin just sits there, worthless, not allowing the nerves or axons to reconnect.
"So as those nerves start to grow down the spinal cord they can't because the myelin is acting like a stop signal blocking the ability of these axons to regenerate," Dr. Ben Barres from Stanford School of Medicine said.
According to Barres, antibodies have limited access to the brain and spinal cord. So he and his staff injected antibodies directly into the spines of mice which then cleared that fatty substance called myelin.
"And at any time theoretically one could remove that myelin, this would basically remove the stop, turn the stop into a green sign, a go sign, and allow those axon to grow again," he said.
So preparing these antibodies in the lab may lead to a new way of repairing damage from stroke and spinal cord injuries.
But the problem is that our bodies need myelin to help nerves make connections and now researchers must figure out how to make the antibodies distinguish between working and worthless myelin.