The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system, carrying messages from your brain to the rest of your body. If the nerve fibres that make up your spinal cord are damaged, the function of part or all of the muscles and nerves that connect to the spinal cord below that site may be impaired. For example, if the injury site is at the level of your chest or lower, your abdomen, legs, bowel and bladder function may be affected. If the injury occurs near the top of the neck, your arms and your ability to breathe and cough may be affected.
About our research
Spinal cord injury research at Neuroscience Research Australia covers a large area. Here are several of our current research projects.
How the spinal cord responds to mechanical force
Prof Lynne Bilston’s team is studying how mechanical forces affect the tissues of the human nervous system, including the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Recent work has shown that the differences in spinal cord injury incidence and severity between adults and children are influenced by differences in spinal column flexibility and in how spinal cord tissues respond to mechanical loading.
Control of coughing in spinal cord injury
Respiratory complications are the major cause of death for people with spinal cord injuries. Due to paralysis of the abdominal muscles, people with high level spinal cord injury have a reduced ability to cough and to clear secretions from the lungs, which can lead to infection. Dr Jane Butler and Prof Simon Gandevia are looking at ways to improve coughing in people with spinal cord injury using electrical stimulation of the abdominal muscles. The team has already shown that this type of stimulation can improve coughing significantly and is now looking to improve coughing through muscle training as well as ways to develop a portable stimulator that would allow independent activation of a cough.
Mapping the spinal cord
Prof George Paxinos is currently completing atlases of the rat and mouse spinal cord. We are using the distribution of chemicals (immunohistochemistry) to find those neurons in the spinal cord that animate muscles or control the autonomic system. We have also commenced our work on the human spinal cord, establishing the areas that correspond with the cord of experimental animals.
Self-experiments have long been a part of science and medicine. Over the years, self-experimenters have proven invaluable to the medical research community, and to the patients they are seeking to help. Prof Simon Gandevia is well known for putting himself ‘under the microscope’ and is perfecting a measurement technique he and his team developed to measure breathlessness in people with […]