Snapshots of Life: Healing Spinal Cord Injuries

Nerve cell on a nanofiber gel

Credit: Mark McClendon, Zaida Alvarez Pinto, Samuel I. Stupp, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

When someone suffers a fully severed spinal cord, it’s considered highly unlikely the injury will heal on its own. That’s because the spinal cord’s neural tissue is notorious for its inability to bridge large gaps and reconnect in ways that restore vital functions. But the image above is a hopeful sight that one day that could change.

Here, a mouse neural stem cell  (blue and green) sits in a lab dish, atop a special gel containing a mat of synthetic nanofibers (purple). The cell is growing and sending out spindly appendages, called axons (green), in an attempt to re-establish connections with other nearby nerve cells.

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Proteins Park Free in this Helix

An artist's rendition and an EM photograph showing the helical nature of the structure.

Caption: Protein-making factories in cells resemble a helical parking garage.
Credit: Cell, Terasaki et al.

I simply couldn’t resist sharing this image with you, even though the NIH didn’t fund the research. What you see in this picture is a structure called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)—a protein-producing factory that is present in every single cell in your body. The little nubs on the surface of this membranous structure are ribosomes—they produce the proteins that are then modified in the ER. Continue reading