A drug that can encourage nerves in the spinal cord to grow and repair injuries has been developed by US scientists. The study published in the journal ‘Nature’, showed some degree of movement and bladder control could be restored.
Damage to the spinal cord interrupts the constant stream of electrical signals from the brain to the body. It can lead to paralysis below an injury.
The study was conducted by a team at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Ohio. The study noted that scar tissue formed after an injury prevented spinal cord repair. To prevent this, the drug works by disrupting the sugary proteins that are released by the scar tissue and act like glue. This prevents nerve cells from growing during an injury.
The long spindly part of the nerve - the axon - gets trapped in the glue if it tries to cross the site of the injury.
The research team injected a chemical under the skin which crossed into the spinal cord and disrupted the activity of the glue. The results were amazing - ‘the axons kept growing and growing,’ said lead researcher Prof Jerry Silver
The research was carried out on rats and in tests, 21 out of 26 rats showed some degree of recovery either in their ability to move or in bladder function. Further testing in larger animals is needed before human trials can take place.
Professor Silver, who leads the team, sees any future therapy resulting from the research as working in conjunction with other treatments being pioneered such as nerve transplants and electrical stimulation.
Plasticity - the reorganisation and rerouting of signal pathways - is the major mechanism responsible for the spontaneous recovery we see in patients with spinal cord injury, but is very limited.
Therefore enhancing plasticity is a major goal for the study. Dr Lyn Jakeman, from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said: "There are currently no drug therapies available that improve the very limited natural recovery from spinal cord i njuries that patients experience.
"This is a great step towards identifying a novel agent for helping people recover."