Scientists May Have Found Key To Spinal Cord Damage

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Spinal Cord Injury

Purdue University researchers may have isolated the substance most responsible for the tissue damage that follows initial spinal cord injury, a discovery that could also improve treatments for a host of other neurodegenerative conditions.

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A research team led by Riyi Shi (REE-yee SHEE) has found that a chemical called acrolein, a known carcinogen, is present at high levels in spinal tissue for several days after a traumatic injury. Although acrolein is produced by the body and is non-toxic at normally occurring low levels, it becomes hazardous when its concentration increases, as it often does in tissue that experiences stresses such as exposure to smoke or pesticides. That list of stresses now includes physical damage, and in the case of spinal injury, acrolein's hazard may be the key in causing debilitating paralysis that sets in after the initial trauma.

"When a spinal cord ruptures, not only are the traumatized cells at increased risk of damage from free radicals that oxidize the tissue, but the cells also spill chemicals that actually help the free radicals to launch repeated attacks," said Shi, who is an associate professor of neuroscience and biomedical engineering in Purdue

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