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Researchers from the University of Birmingham have shown that light can regenerate nerve cells and restore movement in spinally injured mice.

University of Birmingham scientists, led by Professor Zubair Ahmed, have shown that a beam of light can restore movement and sensation in spinally injured mice, by preventing and even reversing nerve cell death.

Treatment involves inserting a small fiber optic cable into the back of the spine to direct near-infrared light to the site of the injury.

Neuronal tests found that delivering red light with a wavelength of 660 nanometers for one minute daily led to an increase in the number of living cells by 45% within 5 days of treatment. Then tests on live mice showed that it restored movement and sensation.

Ahmed said: “We found that only one minute of light therapy is needed every day during the first seven days of injury. But it should start quickly, within 4 hours of injury.”

The spinal cord is a group of nerve cells that carry instructions in the form of electrical messages from the brain to the body. When someone suffers a spinal injury, only part of the damage occurs immediately.

This primary damage to the spinal cord often occurs when the surrounding vertebrae are displaced and the spinal cord is crushed.

Dr Ahmed explained: “This underlying damage sets off a whole chain of events that can last for months and cause greater damage. You get massive swelling at the site of the injury and fluid-filled cysts or cavities develop on your spinal cord, and they swell over the first few months. This causes further damage as “Weakened spinal cord tissue is crushed, disrupting nerve signals and causing further loss of limb and bowel function.”

He continued: "What the treatment does is reduce these cavities in the spinal cord, saving nerve cells from death and encouraging them to regenerate."

He said that the treatment could be tested on humans within the next two or three years.

Within 5 years, Professor Ahmed's team plans to expand human clinical trials to include patients who use a wheelchair due to spinal injuries.


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