In the latest issue of the journal Science, researchers divided that the new drug had been injected into tissue surrounding the spinal cord of paralyzed mice. The drug then set to work on regenerating parts of neurons within the spinal cord, decreasing the presence of scar tissue, protecting motor neurons and forming blood vessels to deliver nutrients to damaged areas. Myelin, which acts as the electrical band of the nervous system to facilitate effective signaling, has also been found to have reformed around cells at the wound site. After four weeks, the mice were able to walk again.
The drug works by creating a network of nanofibers that mimic the extracellular matrix of the spinal cord. This structural multiplication allows the injectable drug to communicate with cells within the mouse’s central nervous system and to engage with cellular receptors. Once these receptors are engaged, the drug triggers two signals. One encourages axonal growth on neurons within the spinal cord, while the other promotes the regeneration of lost blood vessels, which are essential for the vitality of neurons, as well as the body’s ability to perform tissue repair.
“Our research aims to find a therapy that can prevent individuals from becoming paralyzed after a major trauma or illness,” said Samuel I. Stupp, a material scientist and professor at Northwestern, who led the study. “We are going straight to the FDA to begin the process of getting this new therapy approved for use in human patients who currently have very few treatment options.”
Nearly 300,000 Americans live with a spinal cord injury that has resulted in some form of paralysis. The prevalence of paralysis has had researchers working on a cure for years, but the central nervous system has an extremely limited capacity for repair. Those who treat paralysis have traditionally stayed with anti-inflammatory medications and physical rehabilitation as medical options, but the former is more of an emergency solution (anti-inflammatories help with pain but do not help resolve paralysis) and the latter can. will take years to take effect.
Although Northwestern’s new drug has so far only been used on mice, it is a promising development in a field of research that has seen a staggering number of dead ends for the last four decades. Stupp also believes the drug can be used for other purposes, such as brain damage and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s.