Experimental Drug May Help Spinal Cord Injury

A new drug could allow the long axons of spinal cord nerve cells to regenerate after paralyzing spinal cord injuries, unlike current treatments that may require touching the healing spinal cord. The study was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Previous research has indicated that axons attempt to cross the injury site and reconnect with other cells, but are blocked when the protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma (PTP sigma) found in axons interacts with the proteins chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans; these proteins fill the scars that form after the injury. Jerry Silver, PhD, from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, OH, and colleagues designed a drug called ISP to block the axon enzymes and facilitate the drug’s entry into the brain and spinal cord.

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In a study on paralyzed rats, the drug or a placebo was injected under the skin near the injury site for seven weeks. The rats that received ISP showed improvements in walking and urinating a few weeks after the treatment, while the placebo arm showed no improvement. These findings indicate that the drug was able to pass into the brain and spinal cord, and sprouting axons were seen below the injury site when the spinal cords were examined under a microscope. No effect was seen on spinal cord axons known to control movements with the drug.

Next steps will include preclinical trials of the ISP drug, either alone or in combination with other treatments.

For more information visit NIH.gov.