Is it possible to cure paralysis from a spinal cord injury?
There could be good news for people with a spinal cord injury. Researchers have now managed to cure paralyzed rats with the help of gene therapy. The animals, which could no longer move their limbs properly, regained their ability to reach for food and feed themselves.
In their current investigation, the scientists at King’s College London found that gene therapy can cure paralyzed rats that normally could not move properly. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Brain".
Rats regained control of limbs after treatment
Researchers tested gene therapy on rats with spinal cord injuries to simulate the typical injuries people experience in car accidents or falls. It has been observed that rates of gene therapy quickly regained basic control over their limbs, explains study author Prof. Elizabeth Bradbury of King’s College London. However, more precise movements took a little longer.
An improvement was noticed after a few weeks
In some of the tests, such as grabbing the rungs of a ladder, the treatment worked within a week or two. Other tests, such as taking pictures of objects, required very good muscle function, the expert added. Such an activity requires reaching the object by hand, grasping it, turning the wrist and lifting the object and moving it. It takes a long time to learn how to do this again. An improvement could be observed here after five to six weeks, explains the doctor.
A special enzyme breaks down the scar tissue
The scientists injected a gene into the damaged spinal cord that forms an enzyme called chondroitinase, the researchers say. The enzyme breaks down the scar tissue that seals the ends of damaged nerve fibers. This enables the nerves to grow, reconnect the spinal cord and restore muscle movement, the scientists explain in a press release.
More research is needed
The results of the study showed that this type of treatment works in rats with recent injuries. The experts are now repeating the experiment on animals with injuries that were up to one month old and had more scar tissue. Further investigation is now needed to ensure that the treatment has no undesirable side effects. The scientists have installed a type of switch for protection, so that the enzyme is only active when the rats consume an antibiotic in their drinking water. If the antibiotic is removed from the drinking water, the gene switches off.
Treatment could significantly improve quality of life
Examinations are now being carried out on dogs that have been injured in accidents. If this research is successful, studies in humans will eventually follow, the authors explain. If such treatment enabled paralyzed people to move their hands again, it would partially restore their independence. Affected people could again cook themselves food and eat alone, which is of course completely normal for most people, but for those with paralysis would mean an enormously increased quality of life. (as)