It has been well understood that the brain is the center for many functions, including the processing of information in all vertebrates. However, a researcher at the Queen's MRI Facility has found that the spinal cord is capapble of processing information as well and is working on a way to map this function to help people with spinal cord injuries.
Dr. Patrick Stroman, study leader and the Director of the Queen's MRI Facility, has been in the process of mapping the function of the spinal cord, which includes the capability of information processing. He has studied the regions above and below spinal cord injuries in an effort to better understand the injury and the treatment. Through the course of this study, he has developed a technique to aid in bridging injuries to the spinal cord. This technique consists of an MRI system taking multiple images of the spinal cord while temperature sensations are performed on the skin. As the temperature sensations varied, it caused certain areas of the spinal cord to react. The MRI is then able to capture the reactions and can be used to identify the injury that needs to be bridged.
In addition to the reactions, Stroman also realized that a persons level of attention affects the spinal cord's information processing. The MRI was also able to capture spinal cord activity in those patients who were alert and those who were distracted by other tasks.
Stromans states, "The effect of attention is one of the reasons that when you're playing sports and you get hurt, you often don't become aware of the injury until after the game when you attention and focus changes. We already knew that a person's level of attention affects information processing in the brain, but this finding has made us aware that level of attention has to be properly controlled in research that aims to accurately map spinal cord function." "Basic physiology books describe the spinal cord as a relay system, but it's a part of the central nervous system and processes information just like part of the brain do," added Stroman.
This research has the capacity to improve treatment and technology for spinal cord injuries, leading to more effecient, effective recovery.
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