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expert reaction to new drug used to encourage nerve growth in rats with spinal cord injury

Researchers publishing in the journal Nature have described their work to treat spinal cord injury in mice. They report that by treating the mice with a small portion of a specific protein, they were able to recover function to parts affected by the injury.


Dr Elizabeth Bradbury, MRC Senior Fellow, King’s College London, said:

“This study describes a significant development made by Professor Jerry Silver at CASE Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio.

“They use a minimally invasive approach in rats to target molecules that that accumulate in high amounts around injured areas of tissue and which normally stop nerves from re-growing and prevent tissue repair following a spinal cord injury. They developed a peptide that can be simply injected beneath the skin (so no need for invasive procedures such as exposing the spinal cord which can create more damage).

“Using this approach they demonstrated remarkable recovery of lower limb function in paralysed rats that had spinal injuries very similar to those suffered by humans (involving blunt trauma, contusion and bruising to the cord).

“The ability to control urination was also improved in the treated animals. This is a very important aspect of this paper since recovery of bladder function is rated as one of the highest priorities of spinal injured patients. Most paralysed patients can cope with the loss of movement in the legs but find the loss of genitourinary function (the dysfunction of the genital and urinary organs) severely debilitating and demoralising. Consequently, recovery of bladder, bowel and sexual function is almost always ranked higher in priority than the ability to walk again by spinal injured patients. This is often overlooked by the scientific community and is under-researched and underfunded.

“These findings are extremely important and will be of significant interest to the public, since this is a therapy that could potentially be fast-tracked to the clinic and could have the potential to help restore function to spinal injured patients, if the further research that is now needed supports the findings of this study.

“Several questions do still need to be addressed, such as finding out why all of the animals did not respond to the treatment. This could be an issue of permeability of the peptide (i.e. how easily it enters the spinal cord tissue); the peptide may not have effectively entered the spinal cord tissue in the “non-responders”. I am hopeful that this will be resolvable with further work.

“This is a significant advance which offers great hope for the future of restoring limb movement and bladder function to spinal injured patients.”


Dr Dusko Ilic, Reader in Stem Cell Science, King’s College London, said:

“This strategy for ameliorating spinal cord injury is novel and refreshingly different. Even though the initial data are promising, as every new experimental method, a lot more of work has to be done to confirm findings, before trying the similar approach in humans. I hope that other scientists will explore this exciting development.”


‘Modulation of the proteoglycan receptor PTPs promotes recovery after spinal cord injury’ by Bradley T. Lang et al. published in Nature on Wednesday 3 December 2014. 


Declared interests

None declared


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