Fishing for a Paralysis Treatment

July 9, 2012

Dr. Jennifer Morgan is an assistant scientist in the Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering at MBL. She studies nerve cell communication and repair in sea lampreys. She joined us on Living Lab to talk about what she’s learning and what it might mean for those living with spinal cord injuries.

Here’s my “Wow!” moment from my conversation with Jen Morgan: A sea lamprey can be up and swimming – not normally, but swimming – just two weeks after having its spinal cord completely severed (there’s actually a visible space between the two halves). Within 10-12 weeks, it’s movement and behavior is almost indistinguishable from that of uninjured animals.

Meanwhile, most people who suffer spinal cord injuries never recover at all; they’re left permanently paralyzed.
For that matter, after nearly 17 weeks of (totally normal, untraumatic) life, my youngest son can barely make his hands do what he wants. At this point, that would mean getting his thumb in his mouth, a feat that typically involves a lot of uncoordinated hand-waving. Obviously, humans aren’t up for a competition in nerve cell growth or repair anytime soon. But researchers like Jen are hopeful that they might be able to use what they’re learning about the molecular basis of nerve regeneration in sea lampreys to give people with spinal cord injuries a bit of a power boost.

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