A team of scientists from Aberdeen University are pioneering a gel that it is hoped could be used to stimulate spinal cord nerve regeneration. The research, which built on earlier studies into a molecule which develops nerves in embryos, has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and described as representing “tremendous potential for the future treatment of spinal injury.”
The team, which is supported by Scottish Rugby Union, used Epac2 molecules in a gel that led to mobility improvements in 5 rats with spinal damage it was injected into. Dr Derryck Shewan, a member of the team working on the research, explained:
“Adult spinal nerve cells have very limited ability to regrow which makes recovery from spinal cord injury very difficult”.
“We knew that Epac2 molecules were important for nerve growth during embryonic development so it is logical that it may have the same effect on adult nerve cells: encourage them to regenerate.”
“This is something that other researchers have tried around the world in many different ways, but we found that our method actually works and is also very efficient.”
Source: The Times
The spinal cord consists of a densely concentrated collection of nerves that is the command centre for the muscles in our arms and legs as well as vital organs including the bladder and lungs. Unfortunately for such a crucial hub, the spine is able to repair itself to a much more limited extent than most other parts of our body. Which is why spinal injuries are so serious and can lead to irreversible loss of sensation or even paralysis.
When the gel containing Epac2 was injected into the spines of injured rats, within 3 weeks the Aberdeen team were able to observe significant improvement in how they were able to walk across a small ladder placed horizontally like a bridge between two surfaces. They discovered that the gel not only helped stimulate the regrowth of nerves but also acted like a scaffold that nerves used to cross over the injured area.
Dr. Alba Guijarro-Belmar, another member of the Aberdeen University team explained:
“We thought that the Epac2-activating drug would ‘turbo-charge’ the injured nerve cells, helping them to repair, but we also found that it can profoundly reduce the inhibitory nature of the environment around the injury site, so it also influences recovery in that way.”
“The injured spinal nerves not only regenerated more robustly, they sensed the surrounding environment was not as inhibitory anymore, so the damaged nerves could more successfully regrow and cross the injury site.”
Mark Bacon, executive director of the International Spinal Research Trust, which helped to fund the research, also commented:
“Repairing the damaged spinal cord remains one of the greatest challenges in medicine . . . It is a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved when combining therapeutic strategies. Discoveries such as this are paving the way to effective treatments that one day will help restore functions many of us take for granted.”
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