Neural control of sensorimotor and autonomic function in health and neurological conditions

Rationale: A complex cascade of events prevents the central nervous system from repairing itself following lesions. Even though we have learnt much about these processes in the last few decades, an effective intervention to restore function in conditions such as spinal cord injury, head trauma, stroke, etc., remains illusive. This project aims to investigate the effectiveness and mechanisms of different interventions aimed at enhancing plasticity within the nervous system to facilitate functional recovery. 

Plan of work: Using a combination of behavioural (in vivo), physiological (in situ and in vitro), anatomical and computational (in silico) methods, we will investigate specific mechanisms leading to recovery of movement, sensation and other functions such as bladder, bowel and sexual function. 

Animal Welfare: In all experiments involving lesions, animals are cared for individually 2-3 times daily, 7 days a week for the duration of the experiments. Because our main objective is to repair the nervous system and restore function, it is paramount that animals are healthy and free of pain or stress. 

3Rs: It is necessary to use animals to achieve the aims of this project because we are in a stage to test promising interventions to repair the nervous system and observe changes in function. This can only be done in living animals. Reduced preparations such as cell cultures or brain slides only provide limited conclusions and virtually no information about behaviour. We use rodents at this stage because they are more similar to humans than lower species, where the repair processes are different. We have had more than 17 years of experience with these models, with continuous refinement of techniques. 

Implications: Our results will lead to significant advances in our knowledge, with a substantial potential to lead to effective clinical interventions to restore function in people with lesions to the nervous system. Some of our previous results have already shown clinical potential, and others are currently in clinical trials.

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