Soldiers who have suffered nerve damage from combat could have the effects reversed after a discovery by neuroscientists at the Plymouth Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry.
In the 1980s, deficient levels of a protein called Merlin were linked to tumours in the brain and nervous system, however, a recent "breakthrough moment" found that Merlin can also help cells to repair themselves.
Nerve cell projections carry information to and from the spinal cord, they are wrapped and insulated by Schwann cells and after a traumatic injury, Merlin can help these cells repair, according to Professor of Neuroscience, David Parkinson;
"Post injury Merlin plays a big role in giving the Schwann cells regenerative power."
The peripheral nervous system controls everything outside of the brain and spinal cord, with damage to the system causing paralysis and loss of sensation. This can cause "radically life changing events", as Defence Professor of Surgery, Surg Capt Rory Rickard explains;
"From conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, injured service men and women who had a peripheral nerve injury, only one in ten of them have made it back to duty"
Scientists believe Merlin could be utilised in drugs in the near future for soldiers who have damaged their peripheral nervous system affecting their arms and legs.
So far it has only been tested on mice but the impact of merlin is clear.
The next step is to replicate the effects of Merlin in clinical trials which could take five to ten years.