We have spoken before in this blog about how announcements about scientific breakthroughs in spinal cord injury research tend to produce a lot of hype in the moment, but rarely seem to lead to real results for those living with such an injury. Still, a new study may be of interest to victims of spinal injury in Los Angeles, or their loved ones.
A researcher in Ohio says that a drug he helped design has helped paralyzed lab rats regain nerve function, even walk again in some cases. According to NPR, the scientist published his findings in the latest issue of “Nature.”
The professor has been working on restoring nerve function since the 1980s. Based on his findings that a substance in cartilage acts as a “guardrail” that guides the direction of nerves’ growth, he developed a theory that this substance, called proteoglycan, interacts with damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord in a way that could allow them to regenerate.
He and his team sought a drug that would cause the proteoglycan to “release” damaged nerves, instead of trapping them against scar tissue. They tested the resulting drug on rats unable to walk or control their bladders.
After 10 to 11 weeks, the injections began to work. Instead of reconnecting severed nerves, the drug caused the rats’ nerves to sprout and reconnect with the spinal cord, flooding the cord with serotonin. In turn, the serotonin helped amplify signals carried by intact nerves, allowing them to carry signals from the paralyzed sections of the rats’ bodies. Many regained bladder control, and some began walking again.
Whether this drug will lead to a treatment for humans remains to be seen. As always though, any advancement in our understanding spinal cord injuries moves us closer to that goal.