A new drug that encourages nerve growth is shown to help rats with spinal cord injury to regain movement and bladder control. The study, described in Nature this week, sheds light on the mechanisms that normally hinder nerve regrowth and may aid the development of new therapies for spinal cord repair.
Nerves find it hard to regrow across the severed spinal cord because, it was thought, they are repelled by inhibitory molecules released from the scar tissue that forms. Jerry Silver and colleagues have identified a protein that prevents nerve regrowth by ‘gluing’ the tips of regenerating nerves to the scar tissue. They then designed a molecule — intracellular sigma peptide — that sticks to the glue, allowing nerves to regrow across the injured area. Received as a daily injection over weeks, the treatment significantly improved the recovery of rats with severe spinal cord injuries. Hindlimb paralysis disappeared; coordination, balance and bladder function improved; and the animals began to move around more normally.
Understanding why nerves cannot regrow after spinal cord injury is an important pre-requisite to generating effective treatments. Other treatments, such as stem cell transplants, are being actively researched, but the new method is of interest because it potentially offers a non-invasive method of encouraging spinal cord repair.
Modulation of the proteoglycan receptor PTPs promotes recovery after spinal cord injury
This research was supported by U2FP and SCIS. The press release can be found HERE from Unite 2 Fight Paralysis.
Scientists break early barrier to treating spinal cord injuries