A future cure for paralysis? Scientists discover a way to repair axon fibers in the nerves of a damaged spine that don’t regenerate naturally
- Scientists have discovered a molecule that can repair damage in the spine after a serious injury
- Called TTK21, it can stimulate repair in axons without regenerative abilities – opening the door for motor function to be restored
- However, mice on which the molecule was tested were no longer able to walk, making this just the beginning of treatment to cure paralysis.
- The molecule has previously shown success in healing axons in the spine when applied just after a serious spinal cord injury
Scientists have found a way to repair damaged fibers in the spine that don’t repair themselves after significant injury, which could be an important step toward reversing some forms of paralysis.
A team from Imperial College London, in England, was able to stimulate the regeneration of axon fibers in the spines of mice three months after they suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left them unable to walk. These fibers have no regenerative properties and will
Although the mice did not regain their ability to walk, this is the first time doctors have been able to repair these fibers in the spine, opening the door for further research into repairing damage caused by spinal cord injury (SCI).
An estimated 300,000 Americans suffer from spinal cord injury, with approximately 18,000 cases being recorded each year. While physical therapy and other forms of treatment can help a person slowly regain some function, there are no reliable ways to repair a damaged spine and heal a person’s spinal cord injury-related paralysis.
Researchers found that the molecule TTK21 can repair axons in the spine, which usually fail to regenerate after a serious spinal cord injury. However, mice included in the study that saw their spines recover did not regain the ability to walk (file photo)
In a study published Tuesday in PLOS, researchers tested whether the molecule TTK21 could be used to activate axon regeneration in mice suffering from spinal cord injury.
In previous studies, researchers found that the molecule could cope with the task if applied shortly after injury, but there was no existing data on whether it would be effective for chronic spinal cord injury.
Each of the mice was treated for ten weeks, half with TTK21 and the other with a control treatment.
Upon completion of treatment, researchers found that new axons sprout in the spinal cord.
Axons are fibers responsible for transporting signals and impulses between nerve cells.
When damaged, the body can no longer send signals from the brain through the nervous system, making motor functions impossible.
Spinal cord injuries can be devastating and cause permanent loss of motion in the limbs
Spinal cord injury (SCI) can be devastating and often occurs as a result of a traumatic injury
There are no direct cures for spinal cord injury, but physical therapy can help a person slowly regain motor function
There are two primary forms of paralysis caused by SCI, quadriplegia and paraplegia
A quadriplegic suffers damage to all four of their limbs and many of their organs. The paralysis affects almost the whole body
Paralysis suffers damage from their waste and often lose motor functions in their legs
About 300,000 Americans suffer from spinal cord injury, while about 17,000 others suffer a devastating injury each year
Source: Mayo Clinic and The Miami Project
They don’t repair themselves when damaged, causing damage to the nervous system — especially the spinal cord where many nerves connect to the brain — both permanent and devastating.
Axons affected by the injury also stopped retracting, and sensory axon growth in the treated mice also increased.
Unfortunately, despite the growth of the axons, the paralyzed mice did not regain the ability to walk and showed no actual improvements in motor function.
Researchers are still hopeful that TTK21 could serve as a basis for the treatment of paralysis in the future.
“This work shows that a drug called TTK21 administered systemically once a week after a chronic spinal cord injury (SCI) in animals can promote neuronal regrowth and an increase in synapses needed for neuronal transmission,” Simone Di Giovanni, principal investigator of the college, said in a statement.
“This is important because chronic spinal cord injury is a condition with no cure in which neuronal regrowth and repair fail.
“We are now investigating the combination of this drug with strategies that bridge the gap in the spinal cord, such as biomaterials, as possible ways to improve disability in SCI patients.”
Spine injuries are devastating and more common than some may think. The Miami Project reports that approximately 300,000 Americans are currently living with a spinal cord injury.
About 17,000 others will be injured each year. A vast majority of cases, 80 percent, are among men.
In 20 percent of cases, the injured person will have a full-blown spinal cord injury, losing movement completely under the debris.
Currently, there are no drugs to treat spinal cord injury, and instead, patients are subjected to years of physical therapy if they hope to recover.