Paralysis is the result of some sort of disconnection between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the body. Sometimes scientists know why this happens, as in the case of trauma, for example, wherein nerve cells are knocked out by directly by some outside force. In many other cases, including diseases such as multiple sclerosis or transverse myelitis, the breakdown of the nervous system comes from within, and this makes for a very complex mystery.
Biomedical research hopes to unravel the mysteries of nervous system disease and trauma and to return as much function as possible to people who have lost it. This is, of course, easier said than done.
A generation ago, the notion of "cure" for spinal cord injury or other paralyzing conditions wasn’t part of the vocabulary. The central nervous system was simply not viewed as fixable. Few scientists invested their careers in what was considered a dead end area of research. But over the years, things have changed.
The field of restorative neuroscience is bubbling with energy and expectation. There are more scientists working on brain and spinal cord dysfunction now that at any time in history. Even the most conservative researchers no longer believe that the damaged or diseased nervous system cannot be treated.
The clues are mounting. Clinical trials for innovative treatments and therapies will steadily increase in coming years. Our knowledge of the brain and spinal cord is far beyond what it was just a few years ago, but it’s still limited. Many discoveries are still needed to assure that treatments are effective and safe.
While there is much work to do, it is important to know that there is reason for hope. .
This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.