Science & Technology in Action

11th Edition

Science and Serving People

Mark Pollock Trust

Although blind, Mark competed in ultra-endurance races across the globe and rowing in the Commonwealth Games. In 2010, a tragic a fall left him paralysed. This lesson outlines his story and describes his current exploration of the application of scientific knowledge to the treatment of spinal cord injury.
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Contains the full lesson along with a supporting toolkit, including teachers’ notes.

Lesson excerpt

The human spinal cord 
The human nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves. The spinal cord is contained in the bones that make up the vertebral column. Your spinal cord is about 45cm long. At the top and the bottom, it’s as thick as the tip of your baby finger, and maybe half that wide in the middle and is shaped like a slightly flattened circle. 

The main spinal cord functions are: - 

Motor Function tells muscles to do their work - to make fine movements such as moving our toes or gross movements such as running, walking and kicking. 

Sensory Function is the part of the nervous system responsible for processing what we feel or otherwise detect – such as vision, hearing and touch or feeling. 

Autonomic Function is the part of your nervous system that controls involuntary actions, such as the beating of your heart and the widening or narrowing of your blood vessels. 

The human nervous system 
There are two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The system contains cells called neurons that communicate via rapid transmission of either electrical or chemical signals and it coordinates voluntary and involuntary bodily actions. 

The brain and spinal cord are in the CNS. The PNS connects the CNS to other parts of the body. It does this via neurons that have extensions called axons (nerve fibres). The function of the axon is to transmit signals to different neurons located in other parts of the body. Some of these signals travel at over 100 m/s. 

There are 3 different types of neuron that work together: 

Motor Neurons 
Using their axons, motor neurons can speak to other neurons. But some of them can also speak directly to muscles and that neuron is called a motor neuron. 

Sensory neurons 
Sensory neurons have two axons, one of which heads out into your body, where it’s attached to a particular part of you — say, the bottom of your toe. At the end of that axon are receptors that can feel the difference between an itch, a sharp poke, or a caress. The receptor shoots that information directly back to your spinal cord, where one of a number of things can happen. 

Interneurons 
Interneurons are like very fast translators, ensuring that the sensory neurons can talk to motor neurons. 

 

To read more about Mark’s experience visit http://www.markpollocktrust.org/blog/ 

We also have some videos with Reggie and of the study here. 

Training with Electrical Stimulation in Lab - October 2015, https://youtu.be/IK7gcNxtY28

Unbreakable: Meet Dr. Reggie Edgerton PhD, https://youtu.be/CMPqf2lEV2E and

Completely paralyzed man voluntarily moves his legs, UCLA scientists report, 
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/completely-paralyzed-man-voluntarily-moves-his-legs-ucla-scientists-report

 

 

Quiz questions

  1. The motor function is one of the functions of the spinal cord. true
  2. The spinal cord is contained in the vertebral column. true
  3. Researchers have discovered that the spinal cord can receive instructions only from the brain. false
  4. A person who can perform physical movement involving the muscles is said to possess motor skills. true
  5. All types of spinal cord injury (SCI) result in complete paralysis. false
  6. The lumbar region of the spine controls the upper limbs of the body. false
  7. Before his accident mark pollock was a champion rower. true
  8. Some nerve signals can travel at 100 m/s. true
  9. Sensory neurons have five axons. false
  10. The nucleus of a neuron is found in the axon. false
  11. The human skeleton is a type of exoskeleton false
  12. Neuroplasticity is the ability of neurons to continue to reorganise by forming new neural connections. true