Many people realize that geckos have a built-in escape model — they can detach the ends of their tails at will when in a predator’s grasp so they can make good their escape. Even better, in a month’s time, they are able to completely regrow their severed tails.
That’s not just a cool bit of reptile trivia. Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph have studied this phenomenon. They found that geckos’ tails — which include portions of the lizards’ spinal columns — have rapidly proliferating stem cells that allow them to generate new spinal cords after trauma.
The Canadian scientists published their discoveries in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. It is hoped that their findings could potentially lead to breakthroughs in treatments for those living with spinal cord injuries.
According to the researchers, geckos’ tails are chockful of radial glia, stem cells that typically are in resting states. But when trauma occurs, these stem cells spring into action, producing healing proteins to rebuild spinal cords in geckos who have shed their tails.
This is a totally different process than that of humans who suffer spinal cord injuries. Our bodies seal the wounds with thick scar tissue which is a barrier to future regeneration.
Of course, simply acknowledging the differences between human and lizard spinal cord regeneration is a far cry from developing techniques and technologies to transfer these abilities to humans. But it is a start, however.
If you are a spinal cord injury patient, this should be welcome news. Researchers continue to push the envelope of human possibility to try to find ways to return mobility to those paralyzed in accidents.
This is one reason that settlement or judgment for spinal cord injury victims should include funds for future treatment, as one day what now appears miraculous could become standard treatment protocol.