Biological systems are generally more complex than man’s greatest engineering feats, even more intricate than the Panama Canal or skyscrapers of Dubai. Yet engineering sciences can be used to study the mechanical principles of living organisms.
A 2005 study (published in Spine 2005, Nov 1) on Japanese game fowl showed a link between curves in the neck and damage to nerves from chronic spinal cord compression. This biomechanical approach could be a significant finding in treating the management and prevention of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS involves demyelination, a degeneration of the sheath or myelin, which protects nerve fibers. The exposed fibers appear to cause problems in nerve impulse conduction, affecting many systems. MS is one of the most disabling neurological diseases among adults ranging from 20 to 50 years of age. It is estimated that over 250,000 people in the United States are afflicted with this condition.
The researchers of the study performed surgery to induce a C-shaped curve (reversed from the normal cervical alignment) at the C4-C5 level of the birds’ necks. Within days, they saw changes to the fowls’ nerves, with erosion to the myelin. The alterations seemed to be associated with continuous mechanical compression and blood flow changes demonstrated in the spine.
The degree of spinal cord flattening and the severity of the demyelination were quantitatively evaluated. The curve’s angle was increased over the course of three weeks. There was a significant correlation between the angle and the degree of spinal cord flattening.
As the erosion of the nerve sheath continued, the loss of nerve cells traveled across the entire spine. It began with the anterior (front), where the bundle of nerve fibers receive motor neuron impulses from the brain, and went to the posterior (back), where the body sends touch and sensation messages back up to the brain.
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