Human spinal injuries often cause permanent paralysis. A severed spinal cord heals over quickly with scar tissue, sealing wounds but also blocking repair to nervous connections. Neuroscientists are now looking at the interesting tail of the leopard gecko for inspiration. Caught by a predator, the spotty lizard simply detaches its flesh and runs off, leaving the severed appendage behind, wriggling as a distraction. Within a month, the gecko grows a completely new tail, with a fresh spinal cord running down inside – all thanks to a special type of stem cell, called a radial glia cell which sets to work after injury. Humans have lots of these cells during development, but they disappear in later life. It’s possible that carefully introducing these cells in adults may prevent scar tissue from forming after injury, and give the spinal cord more chance to heal.
Written by John Ankers
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