SPARC in the repair of the central nervous system

Spinal cord injury mostly occurs in young people, causing debilitating, lifelong disability. Stroke mostly occurs in older people, and is a leading cause of disability in the elderly. In both cases, recovering function relies on the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to rewire itself. But the CNS isn’t very supportive of the integral processes required for rewiring to occur. Rewiring requires nerve cells to sprout new fibres (called axons) and subsequently make new connections in the spinal cord by bypassing the damaged area. Rewiring also relies on the birth of new cells that must migrate to the injury site and replace cells that died as a result of the injury. Finally, new blood vessels must also grow back into the damaged area to sustain the regeneration of the new tissue. Each of these processes is controlled by the “extracellular matrix,” the environment surrounding cells. Dr. Adele Vincent is examining how this matrix can be manipulated to improve repair processes in the central nervous system. She is investigating whether SPARC, a protein that regulates interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix, can be used to promote recovery after stroke. Dr. Vincent is studying the role of SPARC in regulating processes that impact on nerve regeneration after injury, such as neural stem cells, new blood vessel formation, and the inflammatory response. Ultimately, these findings could lead to more effective therapies to stimulate regeneration following traumatic injuries, stroke and neurodegenerative diseases.