Imaging Finding May Help Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury

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A new technique could aid patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and disorders affecting spinal cord function, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science researchers have published the first conclusive noninvasive measurement of neural signaling in the spinal cord of healthy human volunteers.

Their technique may translate to aiding efforts to help patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and disorders affecting spinal cord function, including multiple sclerosis. The report appears in the August 5, 2014, issue of eLife.

“We propose that the non-invasive methods of resting state spinal cord functional connectivity developed in this paper may be most readily translatable to clinical investigations characterizing damage due to acute or chronic SCI and monitoring the efficacy of surgical or pharmacological interventions,” the authors wrote.

Robert Barry, PhD, and John Gore, PhD, used ultra-high field functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect for the first time “resting state” signals between neural circuits in the human spinal column, which are continuously active (not in response to external stimuli). They believe these circuits may be valuable for understanding how spinal cord injury changes the functional connectivity between neural circuits, and for assessing and monitoring recovery that occurs spontaneously or following various interventions.

“We see these background resting circuits as being inherent measures of function,” Gore, the Hertha Ramsey Cress Professor of Medicine, University Professor and vice chair of Research in the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, explained in a statement.

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