Regeneration of nerve connections
and Recovery of Function
After Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is one of mankind’s most devastating maladies. There are 1,250,000 people in the United States and millions of people around the world living with paralysis, loss of bowel and bladder control, and more as a result of SCI. For over a century, scientists have known that paralysis is due to the interruption of the “corticospinal tract (CST)” in the spinal cord, which controls voluntary movement. Damage to the CST following SCI is the cause of paralysis, and regenerating these connections is the best hope for curing paralysis.
In 2008, Dr. Zhigang He, a brilliant neuroscientist at Harvard, made a trailblazing discovery that could be the key to curing paralysis. In a paper published in Science, Dr. He showed that blocking the gene PTEN enabled nerve connections in the mature optic nerve to regenerate after injury.
Dr. He teamed up with Dr. Oswald Steward at UC Irvine, and in a paper published in Nature Neuroscience in 2010, showed that blocking PTEN enabled regeneration of the CST after spinal cord injury. This was the first time in history that it has been possible to regenerate the pathway that controls movement.
Since 2010, the He/Steward science team has achieved three milestones by showing that regeneration enabled by the PTEN block enhanced recovery from paralysis and that treatment can be delivered in a therapeutically-relevant time frame after a spinal cord injury. Most recently, in a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2014, they showed for the first time that it was possible to block PTEN by using a gene modifying approach that could, in theory, be applied to people. Moreover, when combined with an injection of fibrin (a natural glue) into the lesion site, rats that received the combined treatment scored 95%(“A”) on a test of ability to reach and grasp food with their hands (normal rats score 100%). Untreated rats scored 45% (“F”). If a therapy led to the same extent of recovery in people, a person with a cervical spinal cord injury who could not use his or her hands for daily life activities like eating or personal care would recover these abilities and achieve independence.
Although basic discovery research is funded by the NIH, rapid progress in achieving the milestones along the road to developing a therapy was made possible by generous private donations.
Distinguished scientists have extolled this work, concluding that “Drs. He and Steward have developed a potential treatment for acute SCI.” The focus is on regenerating nerve connections after SCI, but the same approach may enable regeneration of connections after traumatic brain injury, stroke, and peripheral nerve injury. The potential for new treatments for brain repair is huge.
We are poised to take the next critical steps to develop this approach as a human therapy, including developing an approach that will work in a chronic, or long term, injury setting, as well as developing a delivery technique scaled for humans.
Please consider helping to accelerate the development of this promising new treatment in which would bring a future without paralysis. Contact Bob Yant at firstname.lastname@example.org