Scientists said they had succeeded in regenerating nerve fibers from the human central nervous system for the first time, a step that could eventually lead to restoring some function to paralyzed limbs.
The University of Miami researchers cautioned that the work has only been done so far in the laboratory, and it will probably be five years before researchers attempt to restore movement to paralyzed muscles.But when it reaches that point, the first efforts will concentrate on partially restoring quadriplegics' arm movement, Dr. Richard Bunge of the university's Miami Project to Cure Paralysis said Wednesday.
"I do not anticipate that function would be as precise as our natural motor functions are," he said. "But the bottom line is that adult central nerve cells have the capacity to regenerate."
The process is not a cure for paralysis victims but does offer hope of eventually reducing the level of disability resulting from spinal cord injury, Bunge said.
About 500,000 Americans have some type of paralysis as a result of a spinal cord injury, with about 10,000 new injuries reported annually.
Bunge and Dr. James Hopkins, who published their findings in the June issue of Experimental Neurology, said they can craft a kind of splint out of cells taken from peripherial nerve areas in the body, such as the hands.
The peripheral cells that form the "splint" are called Schwann cells.