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Monday, December 14, 2009

New Hope for Brain, Spinal Cord Injuries

Deletion of key gene could help nerve fibers regenerate, researchers say

Deleting a gene that suppresses natural growth factors enables regeneration of injured nerve fibers (axons) in mice, a new study shows.

The finding may lead to new treatments for people with brain and spinal cord injuries.

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston deleted the gene SOCS3 -- an inhibitor of a growth pathway called mTOR -- in the retinal ganglion cells of mice. These cells are in the optic nerve, which carries signals from the eyes to the brain.

Removel of SOCS3 resulted in vigorous growth of injured axons. The greatest improvement was seen after one week, when the researchers also detected signs that the mTOR pathway was re-activated. Axon growth increased even more when the researchers applied a growth factor called ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) directly to the eye of mice in which SOCS3 had been deleted. But CNTF only modestly boosted axon growth in mice that still had SOCS3.

"CNTF and other cytokines [cellular signaling molecules] have been tested for promoting axon regeneration previously, but with no success," study leader Zhigang He, of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Children's Hospital Boston, said in a university news release. "Now we know that this is due to the tight negative control of SOCS3. Inhibiting SOCS3, using small molecule compounds or RNA interference, might allow these cytokine growth factors to be functional."

The study appears in the Dec. 10 issue of Neuron.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Scientists Make Paralyzed Rats Walk Again After Spinal Cord Injury

UCLA researchers have discovered that a combination of drugs, electrical stimulation and regular exercise can enable paralyzed rats to walk and even run again while supporting their full weight on a treadmill.

Published Nov. 20 in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience, the findings suggest that the regeneration of severed nerve fibers is not required for paraplegic rats to learn to walk again. The finding may hold implications for human rehabilitation after spinal cord injuries.

"The spinal cord contains nerve circuits that can generate rhythmic activity without input from the brain to drive the hind leg muscles in a way that resembles walking called 'stepping,'" explained principal investigator Reggie Edgerton, a professor of neurobiology and physiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Previous studies have tried to tap into this circuitry to help victims of spinal cord injury," he added. "While other researchers have elicited similar leg movements in people with complete spinal injuries, they have not achieved full weight-bearing and sustained stepping as we have in our study."

Edgerton's team tested rats with complete spinal injuries that left no voluntary movement in their hind legs. After setting the paralyzed rats on a moving treadmill belt, the scientists administered drugs that act on the neurotransmitter serotonin and applied low levels of electrical currents to the spinal cord below the point of injury.

The combination of stimulation and sensation derived from the rats' limbs moving on a treadmill belt triggered the spinal rhythm-generating circuitry and prompted walking motion in the rats' paralyzed hind legs.

Daily treadmill training over several weeks eventually enabled the rats to regain full weight-bearing walking, including backwards, sideways and at running speed. However, the injury still interrupted the brain's connection to the spinal cord-based rhythmic walking circuitry, leaving the rats unable to walk of their own accord.

Neuro-prosthetic devices may bridge human spinal cord injuries to some extent, however, so activating the spinal cord rhythmic circuitry as the UCLA team did may help in rehabilitation after spinal cord injuries.

The study was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Craig Nielsen Foundation, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, International Paraplegic Foundation, Swiss National Science Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research Grants.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New data on Paralysis Could Impact Future Treatment Strategies

Sufficient information on the prevalence of Americans living with paralysis and spinal cord injuries (SCI) has always been hard to come by. Most information cited in educational literature and on many Web sites regarding paralysis and SCI is extremely outdated. This presents numerous hurdles in devising new or evaluating existing policies, programs, and services for people living with these types of disabilities.

In 2004, The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation brought together a task force of more than 60 scientists, scholars, health advocates, and experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and numerous universities, policy centers, and nonprofit health care organizations to identify what was needed to improve the quality of life for people living with paralysis. In order to complete this complex initiative, the Paralysis Task Force first needed to obtain more recent data on the individuals they were trying to assist.

With support from the University of New Mexico?s Center for Development and Disability (CDD) in partnership with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation?s Paralysis Resource Center (PRC), researchers designed and conducted a survey of more than 33,000 households across the country??one of the largest population-based samples of any disability ever conducted. The new data demonstrates that paralysis may be dramatically more widespread than previously thought.

Below are some of the report?s major findings:
  • Approximately 1.9 percent of the U.S. population, or 5,596,000 people reported they were living with some form of paralysis, defined by the study as a central nervous system disorder resulting in difficulty or inability to move the upper or lower extremities. This is about one-third more Americans living with paralysis than previously estimated (4 million).
  • The leading cause of paralysis was stroke (29 percent), followed by spinal cord injury (23 percent) and multiple sclerosis (17 percent).
  • Data indicate that 1,275,000 people in the United States are living with spinal cord injury?more than five times the number of Americans previously estimated in 2007 (255,702).

These findings have major implications for the treatment of spinal cord and paralysis-related diseases?not only for those living with these conditions, but also for their families, caregivers, health care providers, and employers. As the number of people living with paralysis and spinal cord injuries increases, for example, so do the costs associated with treating them. Each year, paralysis and spinal cord injuries cost the health care system billions of dollars. Spinal cord injuries alone cost roughly $40.5 billion annually?a 317 percent increase from costs estimated in 1998 ($9.7 billion),? the report states.

If you have yet to read this important report conducted by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, you can access the 28-page PDF here.

By NY Disability Examiner Tom Scott

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Human Clinical Trials for Stem Cell Research on Cards

In what is seen as a boost to the stem cell research in the country, India would soon get to host human clinical trials for therapies using umbilical blood cord (UBC) stem cell.

Chennai-based Apollo Hospital, America?s largest stem cell company StemCyte and Dr Wise Young, a leading expert on spinal cord injury, are in talks for conducting clinical trials in India using stem cell derived from UBC. The companies may ink an agreement by the end of this year.

On Thursday, StemCyte announced setting up of StemCyte India Therapeutics (SCITPL), a joint venture with Ahmedabad-based pharma major Cadila Pharmaceuticals and Apollo Hospital. SCITPL will have its headquarters in Ahmedabad and the facility will be functional by the year-end.

Clinical trials using UBC stemcell therapy would be carried out in three areas ? thalessemia, muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injuries. Initially, the phase III trials would start for therapies to treat spinal cord injuries
. The phase I & II trials have already been conducted in the US and China.

While Bangalore-based Stempeutics Research recently got the clearance from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to conduct trials for developing drugs using stem cells derived from the bone marrow of healthy donor, the latest move by StemCyte involves the use of UBC stem cell.

Talking to ET, Dr Wise Young who is professor in Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, said: ?We had initial talks to conduct clinical trials using stem-cells derived from UBC in India. Hopefully, by the end of next year, we should begin our clinical trials here.?

According to StemCyte India Therapeutics president Tushar Dalal, the three parties met in New Delhi on Wednesday and had a video conference with Apollo chairman Pratap Reddy. ?Dr Reddy has expressed his willingness and would come forward to undertake this project. StemCyte would provide UBC stem cells and its technology, while Apollo Hospital would provide its infrastructure and manpower for the trials,? Mr Dalal said. A tripartite agreement is likely by this year-end, he said. Dr Young would head the trials.

StemCyte has patented the plasma depletion technology that helps in collecting higher volume of stem cells and better cell counts, resulting in successful therapeutic applications for over 70 diseases. The location of the trials is significant, as India has a huge number of thalessemia patients. According to Dr Young, about 35% of the Indian population carries thalessemia genes and there is possibility of one-fourth of the children being born with the disease.
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