Purdue Researchers Work on Drug to Relieve Spinal Cord Injuries

Purdue University researchers are working to develop a drug that could reverse some spinal cord injuries as well as other neurological traumas.

Richard Borgens, founder of the Center for Paralysis Research and a leader of the team, said the team got the idea for the new drug after discovering that a blood pressure medication called hydralazine can act as an antidote to acrolein, a poison that damaged nerve cells release to destroy themselves.

Borgens, professor of applied neurology, said hydralazine itself cannot be used to treat spinal cord injuries because it lowers blood pressure.

“You could give it, but you’d have to use accessory drugs to get blood pressure up,” he said.

Instead, the team aims to develop a new drug that acts as an antidote to acrolein without lowering blood pressure.

Borgens said the new drug could reverse spinal cord injuries because in these injuries, the damaged cells do not die right away.

“Cells will continue to die, sometimes for weeks after the event. It’s a progression related to the severity of the injury,” he said. The delayed nature of the cells’ death could give doctors time to reverse the damage.

Borgens said if the drug is developed, it has the potential to cure nerve cells damaged not only by spinal cord injuries, but by a broad range of medical disorders, including arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. The drug could even facilitate the recovery of people who narrowly escape drowning.

Riyi Shi, associate professor of basic medical science and a leader of the study, said developing the drug will probably take about one to two years.

“It takes another three to four years to go through clinical testing, although it is difficult to predict the length of such process,” he said.

To design the drug, Dr. Dan Smith, postdoctoral research fellow in industrial and physical Pharmacy and a member of the team, is looking at the structure of hydralazine. Smith said understanding hydralazine will help the team develop a drug that neutralizes acrolein without lowering blood pressure.

“Unfortunately, how hydralazine works to lower blood pressure is not fully understood,” he said.

But he said the team still has some idea of what part of the hydralazine molecule neutralizes acrolein.

“We can build a new molecule around the active part,” he said.

The team has already started developing the new drug. Smith is creating new compounds that might fulfill the team’s objectives. Research team member Peishan Liu-Snyder is working on testing their efficacy.

Smith said while the medication has a wide range of applications, one type of nerve cell damage the team is focusing on is the damage caused by traumatic stroke.

By Joy Nyenhuis-Rouch

Posted on May 1st, 2006 in Research for a Cure.