Seeing the Spinal Cord

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2014

Researchers from the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science have found a way to conclusively measure neural signaling in the spinal cords of humans.

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The finding published in the journal eLife may eventually lead to helping patients recover from spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D). The technique uses ultra-high field functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) similar to what is used to read brain neural circuits.

However, the spinal cord is much smaller than the brain, so using the same method is ineffective. The researchers found they could get a view of the spinal cord neural circuits by using an fMRI scanner with a 7 Tesla magnet, multichannel spinal-cord coils and advanced methods for acquiring and analyzing the data.

This is the first conclusive non-invasive measurement of neural signaling in the spinal cords of healthy human volunteers.

“We definitely hope that this work can be translated to address many neurological disorders,” says Robert Barry, PhD, the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the institute.

This new method may help researchers understand how SCI/D changes “functional connectivity” between neural circuits as well as assessing and monitoring recovery.

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Seeing the Spinal Cord


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