New treatment may bring damaged spinal cords back to life


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A new chemical compound has activated paralysed muscles in animals with spinal cord injuries.

In the study, 21 of 26 rats with a spinal cord injury regained the ability to move, to urinate or both. The compound, which the researchers call intracellular sigma peptide (ISP), appears to allow nerve fibres to overcome the scarring which blocks their growth.

"This recovery is unprecedented," said Case Western Reserve University school of medicine professor Jerry Silver, who led an international team of scientists. "Each of the 21 animals got something back in terms of function. For any spinal cord-injured patient today, it would be considered extraordinary to regain even one of these functions, especially bladder function." The study results have been published in Nature.

Silver said ISP could potentially be used for other conditions involving scarring such as heart attack or multiple sclerosis.

For the study, 26 rats with severe spinal cord injuries received daily injections of ISP for seven weeks. They were assessed for their ability to walk, balance and control their ability to urinate. Twenty-one animals regained one or more of these functions.

Silver said researchers didn't know "why a particular animal regained a specific function. That is one of the big remaining questions."

No drug therapies exist that might improve "the very limited natural recover from spinal cord injuries that patients experience," said Lyn Jakeman, program director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke in the US. "This is great step toward identifying a novel agent for helping people recover."

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