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Scientists discover way to repair axon fibers in the nerves of a damaged spine

A future cure for paralysis? Scientists discover way to repair axon fibers in the nerves of a damaged spine that does not regenerate naturally

  • Scientists have discovered a molecule that can repair damage in the spine after a serious injury
  • Called TTK21, it can stimulate repair in axons without regenerative capabilities – opening the door to recovery of motor function
  • However, mice on which the molecule was tested did not regain the ability to walk, making this just the start of treatment to cure paralysis
  • The molecule previously showed success in healing spinal axons when applied just after a severe spinal cord injury

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Researchers have found a way to repair damaged fibers in the spine that do not repair themselves after significant damage in what could be a major step toward reversing some forms of paralysis.

A team from Imperial College London in England was able to stimulate the regeneration of axon fibers in the spinal column of mice three months after they had suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left them unable to walk. These fibers have no regenerative properties and will

Although the mice did not regain their ability to walk, this is the first time doctors have been able to repair these fibers in the spine, opening the door to further research into repairing damage caused by spinal cord injury (SCI).

An estimated 300,000 Americans suffer from SCI, with about 18,000 cases recorded each year. While physical therapy and other forms of treatment can help a person slowly regain some function, there are no reliable ways to repair a damaged spine and cure a person’s SCI-related paralysis.

Researchers found that the molecule TTK21 could repair axons in the spinal column, which normally do not regenerate after a severe spinal cord injury.  However, mice included in the study that saw their spines recover did not regain the ability to walk (file photo)

Researchers found that the molecule TTK21 could repair axons in the spinal column, which normally do not regenerate after a severe spinal cord injury. However, mice included in the study that saw their spines recover did not regain the ability to walk (file photo)

In a study published in PLOS on Tuesday, researchers tested whether the molecule TTK21 could be used to activate axon regeneration in mice suffering from SCI.

In previous studies, the researchers found that the molecule would do the job if applied shortly after injury, but there was no existing data on whether it would be effective for chronic SCI.

Each of the mice was treated for ten weeks, half with TTK21 and the others with a control treatment.

After treatment, the researchers found that new axons sprouted in the spinal cord.

Axons are fibers responsible for carrying signals and impulses between nerve cells.

When it is damaged, the body can no longer send signals from the brain through the nervous system, making motor functions impossible.

Spinal cord injury can be devastating and cause permanent loss of movement in the limbs

Spinal cord injury (SCI) can be devastating and often occurs as a result of a traumatic injury

There is no direct cure for SCI, but physical therapy can help a person slowly regain their motor function

There are two primary forms of paralysis caused by SCI, quadriplegia and paraplegia

A quadriplegic suffers damage to all four of their limbs and many of their organs. The paralysis affects almost the entire body

Paraplegics suffer injury during their waste and often lose motor function in their legs

About 300,000 Americans suffer from SCI, while about 17,000 others suffer a devastating injury each year

Source: Mayo Clinic and The Miami Project

They do not repair themselves when damaged, making damage to the nervous system—and specifically the spinal cord, where many nerves connect to the brain—both permanent and devastating.

Axons affected by the injury also stopped retraction, and the growth of sensory axons among the treated mice also increased.

Unfortunately, despite the axon growth, the paralyzed mice did not regain the ability to walk and showed no real improvement in motor function.

Researchers still hope that TTK21 can serve as a basis for treating paralysis in the future.

“This work shows that a drug called TTK21, administered systemically once a week after a chronic spinal cord injury (SCI) in animals, can promote neuronal regrowth and an increase in synapses necessary for neuronal transmission,” Simone Di Giovanni, lead researcher from the college, said in a statement.

‘This is important because chronic spinal cord injury is a condition with no cure in which neuronal regrowth and repair fail.

“We are now exploring the combination of this drug with strategies that bridge the spinal cord gap, such as biomaterials, as possible avenues to improve disability in SCI patients.”

Spinal cord injuries are devastating and more frequent than some might think. The Miami Project reports that approximately 300,000 Americans are currently living with a spinal cord injury.

Around 17,000 others will suffer an injury each year. The vast majority of cases, 80 percent, are among men.

In 20 percent of cases, the injured person will suffer complete paraplegia – total loss of movement under the debris.

Currently, there are no medications to treat SCI, and instead patients are subject to years of physical therapy if they hope to recover.

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