Comparing the snapshots over time reveals an ongoing healing process. "The injury was ongoing for a much longer period of time than we thought previously, and there were very specific events going on at various times after injury," says Velardo. "This tells us that we may have more opportunities to intervene and it also gives us more ideas for how we might intervene than what we've known to this point."
"Prior to this most of the emphasis has been placed on trying to treat the injury within a few hours after the injury and people sort of gave up hope after that, that there might, there wasn't anything else that you could do," says Velardo. "This tells us that perhaps there may be other windows of opportunity for treatment and other kinds of treatment that perhaps we haven't thought about using before."
The hope is that drugs that target the genes involved in healing could enhance the process to regenerate the damaged tissues. "This work itself will not supply a cure for spinal cord injury," Velardo points out. "What it does is it supplies the knowledge that we need to be able to focus on what might be the important issues in working on a cure for spinal cord injury."
Although the field's biggest advocate is gone now, Velardo hopes his advocacy will live on. "[Reeve's] contribution to research in neural injury is unsurpassed by any other person to this point in history," she says. "My initial reaction was one of deep sadness and now what I would like to have people remember is that all of his work should not go to waste and that just because he's dead doesn't mean that these aren't still serious problems that need to be addressed. And each one of us needs to take up the gauntlet to some extent and keep moving forward and respect his legacy."
This research appeared in the October, 2004 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by the M. F. Overstreet Endowment, State of Florida Brain and Spinal Cord Research Trust Fund, and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.