Gordon Mitchell, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, thinks he and a team of fellow scientists may have made a discovery that falls into the breakthrough category, one that offers new hope for people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

Mitchell started out studying sleep apnea. But over the years he and scientists he asked to join him from the University of Saskatchewan, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Emory School of Medicine discovered that the short periods of oxygen deprivation so worrisome for patients with sleep disorders might actually help people who are paralyzed because the sessions stimulate what scientists call “plasticity” in injured spinal cords. Plasticity is the ability of various systems in the body to adapt to changing circumstances and assume new functions.

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