Researchers say, people with spinal cord injuries may one day regain the use of their limbs with a cocktail of treatments that proved extremely beneficial in rats with damaged cords.
When tested two months after the three-pronged treatment, the animals, with lower spine injuries that damaged their hind legs, had more improvement than the scientists had ever seen. They walked 70 percent better than injured animals that did not have the combination treatment.
The study was designed by scientists at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and included three therapies: A medicine initially developed for depression; transplantation of Schwann cells that make myelin, the protective covering around axons, which are the long projections attached to cells that allow communication to take place throughout the body; and a medicine that increases the production of a messenger molecule called c-AMP. C-AMP signals genes to carry out specific functions, informs Newsday.com
According to Scotsman.com many victims of spinal injuries currently live with the prospect of never being able to walk again.
Damage to the spinal cord is generally irreversible despite the efforts by scientists to discover ways of repairing the tissue.
The new treatment, reported in Nature Medicine, involves cell grafts, combined with the administration of a messenger molecule and the drug Rolipram.
The drug was administered near the time of injury and, up to one week later, nerve cells called Schwann cells were transplanted.
The study was conducted on rats and further research is now expected to see whether it can be applied to humans.
Lead researcher Mary Bartlett Bunge said: “This work opens up new possibilities for treatments for spinal cord-injured humans.”
Researchers first inject the rats with Rolipram, a drug that stops the loss of a growth-enhancing chemical called cyclic AMP, which occurs just after a spinal cord injury. Researchers then take cells from the rats' peripheral nerves, grow those in the lab and transplant them into the injured area, followed by one-time injections of cyclic AMP above and below the transplant site. The injections raise the levels of cyclic AMP, enhancing the environment for the growth of nerve fibers, Bunge says.
The animals went from being able to take only occasional steps to walking in a coordinated way, with hind and fore paws working together, Kleitman says. "That's a much bigger effect" than has been previously seen, she says.
The research focused on a common but less severe injury than that suffered by actor Christopher Reeve. But, Miami Project spokesman Scott Roy says, it could lead to treatments for all kinds of injuries, informs USAtoday.com