Pint of Science Special

Hey guys,

Today I wanted to tell you about an awesome event that I went to yesterday.

Don’t worry this won’t take the place of the (long impending) post I intend to make on Saturday pertaining to Cerebral Palsy, but will be in addition.

Last night I had the pleasure of going to the 2nd Annual Pint of Science event at NPR’s WHYY studios in Philadelphia. The event itself was structured with the premise of opening the field of science to the general public. This parallels my goal for this website exactly!

So, with that said, I thought it would be a great idea to tell you about some of the information that was talked about last night and try to get more people to the future Pint of Science events in the future.

To give you an idea of the overall event it was in its essence a night full of science and craft beer. What more could you ask for?

Yes, I know it would be great if it was more specifically on neuroscience! Well then, better news, two of the presenters were speaking on neuro-scientific topics. The other topic was HIV reservoirs in long-term antiviral treatment in HIV/AIDS. While this is a highly interesting topic, it is not something that I wanted to talk about, mostly due to my extremely limited knowledge upon the topic. However, there was another great talk given by Dr. Michael Lane from Drexel’s School of Medicine, which galvanized me to write this special post.

Dr. Lane’s talk focused on spinal cord injury and the restoration of normal respiration patterns upon neuron transplantation. I will reiterate some of the talk he gave and hopefully we can have a conversation about spinal cord injury and any other related topics.

Dr. Lane opened his talk with some interesting statistics pertaining to the number of individuals per annum who experience spinal cord injury. With numbers reaching approximately 110 thousand people suffering from injury in any given year and 12 thousand new injuries occurring within a year, this presents itself as a massive issue both socially and economically.

So what is a spinal cord injury? Spinal cord injury can be defined as an insult that occurs via trauma to the spine that causes pressure or tearing of the neurons that make up the spinal cord. Unfortunately, the central nervous system (CNS [brain and spinal cord]) has thus far proven intransigent to cell regeneration after insult or injury. The CNS is unlike the peripheral nervous system (PNS [all of the neurons lying outside of the brain and spinal cord]) which can regenerate neurons through a terrific regenerative process which can be found here.

To understand spinal cord injury it is somewhat pertinent to understand some basic spinal cord anatomy. The above video is helpful if you already watched but if not here it is again. Also this

image courtesy of
image courtesy of

diagram is helpful.

The spinal cord is made up of many neurons both in the denser gray portion of the spinal cord (middle) and the outer portion of the spinal cord. Fortunately we have vertebrate that protect our spine and the said neurons from being damaged. But, if the insult is great enough to cause damage many times we see axonal shearing. This is when the long part of the neuron, called an axon, is cut off from the rest of the neuron, such as the cell body (soma). You can see how this may be a problem because these cells need nutrients to survive, and have now since lost their lifeline directly to the cell body.

If insult occurs then there becomes a point in the spine where communication between neurons ceases to exist. Depending upon where in the spine this occurs we can see loss of movement in multiples limbs or other possibly more vital functions such as loss heart beat, and/ or proper respiration patterns. This is where Dr. Lane’s speech picks up.

Dr. Lane proposed that functionality of respiration is actually decreased, if someone is put on a ventilation system as a result of spinal cord injury. Functionality is decreased when the thoracic diaphragm muscles start to deteriorate within approximately 2 hours of a patient being put onto a ventilation system. Now the problem becomes that not only did the patient lose the ability to properly breath internally through the moderation of the spinal cord but they start to lose the ability of their thoracic diaphragm to do it’s job (basically it contracts and allows air into the lungs).

The discussion then took a provocative turn in talking about spinal plasticity (the ability for the spine to change structure and functionality). The idea of spinal plasticity is a thought provoking and controversial thought because many scientists have previously proposed that the spinal cord is unable to change or regenerate. Well, this is still very true, except when neurons are transplanted.

In order for neurons to be transplanted into the patient with a spinal cord injury their needs to be either a donor (extremely unlikely) or a source of cells that have the ability to change into neurons, in other words, a source of stem cells.

The discovery of stem cells is one of the most promising and fascinating in the field of biology. The idea behind stem cells is somewhat simple. If stem cells are embryonic they are considered to be blank cells which are pluripotent (ability to become any kind of cell) Through the introduction of these blank cells to close proximity of the desirable cells they can become those said desirable cells. It sounds way too simple but believe me (I have done it) it is pretty much just how I said it.

When combined with rehabilitation, patients see fantastic results in terms of respiration and in many cases the original functionality of the neurons that were damaged.

Here is a video of the procedure if you’re interested.

The benefits of this kind of stem cell transplant therapy are quite astounding. Neuron transplant therapy for spinal cord injury patients is a case-and-point of why stem cell therapy should be funded with greater conviction. With that said please, refrain from political comments!

Be sure to check out Dr. Lane’s website for his list of papers pertinent to the subject.

Also be sure to check out the Pint of Science website for more information about upcoming events in your closest city.

As always, leave comments below and let’s start a conversation!



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