One of the most devastating aspects of suffering a spinal cord injury is knowing that the damage is permanent. One recent study indicates, however, that gene therapy may help those who have suffered an SCI to regain limb function.
A team of researchers at King's College London examined the use of a gene therapy involving the enzyme chondroitinase ABC as a means to improve the limb function in rats with damaged spinal cords. Their findings, published in the most recent issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, indicate that the use of this therapy may prove beneficial in encouraging axon growth. Axons are the cells that pass along information from the brain to the rest of the body via the spinal cord.
When an SCI occurs, scar tissue can develop around the cells of the spinal cord. This scar tissue is problematic because it prevents injured axons from regenerating. The enzyme ChABC has proven to be a promising treatment for SCI patients because it helps break down this scar tissue, which in turn helps encourage axon growth. Once the enzyme is injected into the body, however, it breaks down quickly, which can limit its long term effects. For this reason, scientists have developed gene therapies that encourage neural cells to produce the enzyme themselves.
In the King's College London study, the use of these gene therapies caused the neural cells of injured rats to produce the ChABC enzyme in the areas of their injuries. The enzyme not only helped protect the health of the animals' spinal cords, but also led to a restoration in hind limb function after 12 weeks.
Researchers discovered that the ChABC enzyme not only helped injured axons to regenerate after being damaged, but also helped to reduce inflammation at the site of injury. In recent years, scientists have come to recognize that the body's natural inflammation response after injury can be particularly problematic for SCI patients. It can, however, be difficult to control, so the news that this treatment can help prevent it is quite encouraging.
Of course, it will take much more research before the gene therapy in this study is used on human beings. It appears, however, that these sorts of therapies may one day prove to be indispensible in treating those with SCIs.
If you have suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident, know that you have rights. Speak to a personal injury attorney to learn more.