Every year, in Europe alone, accidents in the swimming pool or on the road cause severe spinal cord injuries to ten thousand people. Leonor Saúde, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon (FMUL) and researcher at the João Lobo Antunes Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM), is looking for a way to regenerate these lesions through zebrafish.
The zebrafish is able to regenerate all its organs on its own, including the spinal cord. This means that a month after a serious spinal injury, it has recovered and is back swimming.
Car accidents and diving in shallow water are two of the main causes of spinal cord injury. These patients, usually young, do not have any problem with the brain or limbs, but rather with the information “highway” that unites them. The spinal cord, protected by the vertebrae of the spine, is that highway: a kind of tube filled with electrical cables, the nerves, which carry nerve impulses from the brain to the periphery – providing motor control – while bringing information from the periphery to the brain – enabling sensory perception. “We don't have wireless, the communication in our body is done by cable, the old-fashioned way”, says the researcher.
From an early age, the Professor has had close contact with research: she spent nights on river boats collecting water samples, camping in the mountains to collect waste and feathers. “It was fun, but it also made it clear that field biology was not for me. What fascinated me was laboratory biology”. It was then that the zebrafish got in her way. This animal model is widely used in scientific research as its genome is sequenced and it shares a large percentage of human genes and diseases.
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