New Drug Class Reverses Paralysis in Mice

New Drug Class Reverses Paralysis in Mice

In the latest issue of the journal Science, researchers shared that the new drug was injected into tissue surrounding the spinal cords of paralyzed mice. The drug then got to work on regenerating parts of neurons within the spinal cord, diminishing the presence of scar tissue, protecting motor neurons, and forming blood vessels to deliver nutrients to damaged areas. Myelin, which acts as the nervous system’s electrical tape to facilitate efficient signaling, was also found to have reformed around cells at the injury site. After four weeks, the mice were once again able to walk.

The drug works by creating a network of nanofibers that imitate the spinal cord’s extracellular matrix. This structural duplication allows the injectable drug to communicate with cells within the mouse’s central nervous system and engage with cellular receptors. Once those receptors are engaged, the drug triggers two signals. One encourages axon growth on neurons within the spinal cord, while the other promotes the regeneration of lost blood vessels that are vital to neurons’ vitality, as well as the body’s ability to conduct tissue repair.

“Our research aims to find a therapy that can prevent individuals from becoming paralyzed after major trauma or disease,” said Samuel I. Stupp, a materials scientist and professor at Northwestern who led the study. “We are going straight to the FDA to start the process of getting this new therapy approved for use in human patients, who currently have very few treatment options.”

Almost 300,000 Americans live with a spinal cord injury that has resulted in some form of paralysis. The prevalence of paralysis has had researchers working toward a cure for years, but the central nervous system has an extremely limited capacity for repair. Those dealing with paralysis have traditionally been left with anti-inflammatory medications and physical rehabilitation as treatment options, but the former is more of a band-aid solution (anti-inflammatories assist with pain but don’t help resolve paralysis) and the latter can take years to take effect.

Though Northwestern’s new drug has only been used on mice so far, it’s a hopeful development in a field of research that has seen a dismaying number of dead ends over the last four decades. Stupp also believes the drug may have the potential to be used on other targets, such as brains impacted by strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s.

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