Scientists in Canada have discovered a way to regrow damaged nerve cells, which shows promise in healing brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord injuries. The Globe and Mail reports:
Until about the age of two, the neurons in the human brain are still growing, stretching out long arms known as axons to form connections and build networks and circuits. After that, experience and learning shape those connections largely through pruning, said Dr. [Patrice] Smith, now 32 and running her own lab at Carleton University. Superfluous connections are trimmed; those used more frequently are strengthened in a variety of ways that don’t involve the growth of axons. […]
Now, she and colleagues at Harvard have a found a molecule that appears to put the brakes on neuron growth in adult mice. It is called SOCS3. When the scientists blocked it in adult mice with crushed optic nerves, the damaged neurons began to sprout. Some of the new growth reached as far as the brain. The next step is to see if this is enough to restore the vision of the blind mice.
A big hurdle to treating brain injuries has always been that our neuroplasticity drastically decreases as we age. If we could flip a genetic or chemical switch to increase our neuroplasticity, the medical treatments that would become possible would be, to use the technical term, balls-to-the-wall awesome.
Also, I apologize in advance for what I am about to do, but I’m not sorry enough to refrain from doing it: