Roughly 2 percent of Americans have some form of paralysis resulting from spinal cord injury, according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. It is impossible to restore function and movement lost in this sort of paralysis…or at least, it has been up until now. A bioresearch team at the University of California, Irvine has discovered the perfect concoction to cure such paralysis using, of all things, a protein transplant from salmon.
“Paralysis and loss of function from spinal cord injury has been considered irreversible, “says UC Irvine professor of neuroscience Oswald Steward. This is because spinal cord injury leads to the destruction of nerve connections, rendering it impossible to feel or move the affected area. Destroyed nerve connections are thought to be unrepairable,” but our discovery points the way toward a potential therapy to induce regeneration of nerve connections,” Steward says in a recent UC Irvine press release.
This therapy has two parts. First, an enzyme called PTEN is deleted through gene inhibition. PTEN prevents creation of axons once the body has created enough in order to regulate the number of axons the body has. Disabling PTEN allows destroyed axons to grow back; however, simply inhibiting the gene is not enough to guarantee that the axons will grow back. Axons need a special type of environment to grow and create their networks, and Steward found that an excellent foundation comes from the fibrin in salmon.
(A fibrin network, yellow/orange, surrounding red blood cells. Image courtesy semphotographs)
Fibrin is a stringy protein commonly used as surgical glue. Its fibrous nature provides a perfect framework for axons to grow and connect. In rodent trials, an injection of fibrin and a dose of PTEN inhibitor immediately following a spinal cord injury restored movement and feeling in the affected areas. Of course, Steward notes that realistically speaking, such treatment may not be available immediately after injury. “It would be a huge step if it could be delivered in the chronic period weeks and months after an injury, but we need to determine this before we can engage in clinical trials.”
The study received funding support from the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 NS047718) and donations from Cure Medical and Unite 2 Fight Paralysis. For more information regarding grants and research funding at UC Irvine, peruse our free University of California Irvine Funding Report, accessible via the following link.
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