Scientists reverse paralysis in mice, seek human trials

(SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMUEL I. STUPP, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Spinal cord injury has been a major challenge for science for decades.”

Scientists at Northwestern University say they may have found a breakthrough treatment for reversing paralysis in humans after successfully administering a new injectable therapy in mice.

“The central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord, which sends messages between your brain and the rest of your body, has very limited capacity to repair after injury.”

In a new study, the team describes an injection of “dancing molecules” to reverse paralysis in mice and repair tissues after severe spinal cord injuries.

Just four weeks after the injection, the injured animals regained the ability to walk.

Samuel I. Stupp leads the research.

"This is probably the most important paper I have ever written. And it describes a piece of science that was truly unknown."

The new breakthrough therapeutic is injected as a liquid directly into the spine.

It influences the motion of molecules, in effect, making them ‘dance’, so they can more easily engage with constantly moving cellular receptors.

"When molecules did not move or move very little, then the response we observed in the animals was just the slight twitching of the limbs. But no ability to walk. When we use the exact same therapy, the exact same signals, but we molecularly change the structures so that the molecules would move more. Now we saw full ability of the animals to walk."

The therapy immediately gels into a complex network of nanofibers that mimic the extracellular matrix of the spinal cord.

“One way to think about this is that if the molecules are dancing around or leaping out of the fibers, the probability that they will meet up with the receptors is increased. We recognize this as a new concept that has never been done and had remarkable success in improving the recovery after spinal cord injury."

Published in the journal Science, the Northwestern team claims this is the first study in which researchers controlled the collective motion of molecules through changes in the chemical structure.

Stupp said they now want to push for human trials, by-passing large animal testing.

"We are definitely headed for the FDA to seek approval for use of our novel therapy in clinical trials, and we are very excited about this possibility that will make a huge difference to patients."

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, nearly 300,000 people in the U.S. are currently living with a spinal cord injury.

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