Major breakthrough in paralysis treatment

Researchers say they have uncovered a major breakthrough in the quest to cure paralysis. A new study shows rats with spinal cord injuries can achieve 70 percent normal function.

Investigators from The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami School of Medicine designed a combination therapy and tested it on rats with spinal cord contusions — the most common cause of paralysis in humans. The combination therapy consisted of transplanted Schwann cells, which is a type of cell that insulates nerve cells, a cell messenger molecule called cyclic AMP, and the antidepressant Rolipram.

Researchers injected the rats with Rolipram prior to transplanting Schwann cells to preserve cyclic AMP. Cyclic AMP helps enable the growth of nerve fibers that send signals up and down the spinal cord and central nervous system. The rats also received injections of cyclic AMP to promote the growth of nerve fibers past the injury site and into the spinal cord.

Following a spinal cord injury, the body typically does not provide a proper environment for nerve regeneration. However, with the new combination, nerve cells actually reconnected, so healing of the damaged nerve fibers was possible.

Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study, says, “This work opens up new possibilities for treatments for spinal cord injured humans. In the 15 years that I have been at The Miami Project, this is the most exciting and important work that has been done in my laboratory.”

Researchers say more studies are needed to confirm their findings before the treatment is tested in humans.

SOURCE: To be published in an upcoming issue of Nature Medicine

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