Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frogs and Salt to Cure Spinal Cord Injury

People with severed limbs, spinal cord injuries and other traumatic wounds may someday be able to regrow lost nerves and tissue with the help of sodium, a new study suggests.

By using drugs to prompt a flood of sodium ions into injured nerve cells, biologists from Tufts University were able to regenerate severed tadpole tails — complex appendages containing spinal cord, muscle and other tissue. The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"We certainly feel this will be relevant for human medicine," said lead researcher Michael Levin, the director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts. "The name of the game is to control the ionic content of the wound, which is able to kick-start the whole process of regeneration. You can initiate the whole cascade of repair."

Like humans, who can regrow fingertips only as children, tadpoles lose the ability to regenerate their tails with age, the researchers said. In this study, so-called refractory tadpoles, which normally cannot regrow their tails, began growing a duplicate after an hour-long infusion of a specific combination of drugs.

The frog tail is a good model for human regeneration, Levin said, because it repairs injury in the same way, with each tissue making more of itself. Tail regeneration takes about seven days for both young and sodium-treated refractory tadpoles, he said.



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