A group of German scientists restored the ability of mice to walk that had been paralyzed following a full spinal cord injury.
The team specifically developed a so-called "designer" that signals protein and injects it into the brains of the mice, triggering their nerve cells to regenerate and share their recipe for making the said protein.
A New Atlas report said that spinal cord injuries are among the most incapacitating conditions. Damaged nerve fibers also known as axons may not be able to transfer signals between the brain and muscles, frequently leading to paralysis in the lower limbs. Worse still, according to the said report, "these axons cannot regenerate."
Past research showed potential in the restoration of some limb function by means of spinal stimulation treatment, or "bypassing the injury area altogether."
Target to Repair Damaged Axons
Other promising studies in similar areas have involved the use of compounds restoring balance to the inhibitory or excitatory signals in the partially-paralyzed mice's neurons, not to mention, transplanting regenerating nose nerve cells into injured dogs' spines.
However, in this new study, researchers from Germany-based Ruhr-Universitat Bochum or RUB took a different path, targeting to repair the damaged axons using a protein they now call hIL-6 or hyper-interleukin-6
As its name suggests, this is a synthetic kind of naturally-occurring peptide, tweaked to activate regeneration of nerve cell.
According to an author of the study, Dietmar Fischer, such an occurrence is a "so-called designer cytokine." Meaning, it does not take place like this in nature, and needs to be produced through the use of genetic engineering.
hIL-6 in on Mice
In this research, the research team tested hIL-6 on mice that had sustained a full spinal cord crush, leading to loss of function in both their hind legs.
The study investigators packaged the genetic instructions to produce hIL-6 into a typical viral vehicle, and injected them into the mice's sensorimotor cortex.
As indicated in the study published in the journal Nature Communications journal, not only did motor neurons near the area of injection start producing hIL-6 themselves, although they passed it "through axonal side branches to other neurons" accountable for actions like walking, for one.
And, sure enough, within a couple of weeks, the mice regained their function in their hind legs, even following just one injection.
Gene Therapy Treatment
Consequently, gene therapy treatment of just a few nerves activated various nerve cells' axonal regeneration in the brain, and at the same time, various motor tracts in the spinal cord, Fischer explained.
Eventually, this enabled the previously paralyzed mice that were given this treatment to start walking two to three weeks after.
This occurred as a great surprise to the research team at the beginning, as it had never been presented to be possible in the past, following a full paraplegia.
As incredible as the study findings sound, it is clearly very early days for the study. The authors said the next steps are to examine in mice if the same results can be attained if the treatment is given weeks after injury, instead of immediately after.
Hopefully they added, in the long run, such outcomes may be applied to humans although "that would not be for many years yet, if ever."
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