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Could geckos be key to reversing spinal cord injuries?

Perhaps the worst type of car crash other than a head-on collision is a vehicle rollover, as the injuries suffered by the vehicle's occupants can be severe and life-altering.

Spinal cord injuries are frequent results of these type of motor vehicle accidents and often involve varying degrees of paralysis. While that is never good news for the victims, there is a sliver of hope on the horizon.

The mysteries inside a gecko's tail

Most people realize that geckos, like many lizards, have the ability to evade predators by breaking off their tails and making good their escapes. What is especially interesting about geckos is the manner in which they rapidly regrow their tails. In a month's time, a gecko can completely replace its severed tail.

Canadian scientists at the University of Guelph learned that geckos' tails and spinal cords contain stem cells that rapidly reproduce themselves and produce proteins that respond to injuries. The proteins create new spinal cords for the geckos. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, and believe this useful information could eventually be key in the development of cutting-edge treatments for human spinal cord injuries.

Geckos' tails contain a certain kind of stem cells typically found in resting states — radial glia. Once injuries occur, the radial glia are activated and produce healing proteins until a new spinal cord is intact.

Man versus gecko

In contrast, our bodies respond to spinal cord injuries by producing scar tissue that seals the wound and prevents regeneration. The research project's lead author issued a statement, reading, in part:

"It's a quick fix but in the long term it's a problem. This may play a role in [our] limited ability to repair our spinal cords. We are missing the key cell types required."

Researchers simulated spinal cord injuries in the lab using geckos. They pinched their tails and measured the individual cells' response both before and after regeneration.

Seeking treatment after a spinal cord injury

While this is promising research, it's very much still in the experimental phase. Treating spinal cord injuries remains a costly and prolonged endeavor, which may be aided by pursuing financial compensation from the at-fault drivers.

Source: Fierce Biotech, "Gecko’s talent for regrowing its tail could help people with spinal cord injuries," Arlene Weintraub, accessed April 06, 2018

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Brian Jensen

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