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Scientists discover chemical that could help heal nerve damage A potential breakthrough for patients with paralysis

Updated May 24, 2023, 1:29 pm EDT

Top line

Scientists have discovered a new chemical that could help heal nerve damage, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Naturewhich offers initial hope for one day to reverse the paralysis and lost functioning that can result from nerve injury.

Main aspects

The compound, named 1938, was created after scientists at University College London, the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca examined thousands of molecules in the company’s chemical library looking for those that could activate the biological keys. mechanisms that control cells

Roger Williams, a senior author on the study from the MRC LMB, said the chemical works by activating one of the molecular machines that control how our cells function and are the targets of many different drugs.

Specifically, 1938 works by activating an enzyme, phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), which governs cell growth, is involved in various processes such as wound healing, and can also be hijacked by cancer cells to help them grow.

Nerve cell growth increased significantly when 1938 was added to lab-grown nerve cells, the researchers said, and tests in nerve-injured rats showed increased recovery and restoration of some motor functions, suggesting a degree of nerve regeneration.

Early animal research also showed that the compound protects against heart damage following traumatic events such as a heart attack, which usually result in areas of dead tissue forming that can cause problems later in life even after blood flow has been restored. .

James Phillips, professor in UCL’s School of Pharmacy and senior author of the study, said there is huge potential for drugs that can activate PI3K to speed up nerve regeneration as there are currently no approved drugs to regenerate nerves, which may be damaged as a result of injury or illness.

What to watch

While there are cancer drugs that block the PI3K pathway to hamper tumor growth, the researchers said the mechanism’s clinical potential has not been explored to its full potential. Encouraged by the positive results, the team said it is working on developing new therapies to treat peripheral nerve damage, such as that sustained in severe hand and arm injuries. They are also looking into other ways that PI3K-activating drugs could treat other types of nerve damage, including that from spinal cord injuries, strokes and neurodegenerative diseases. The results are promising, particularly for a range of often debilitating problems for which there are no approved treatments, but they are preliminary and a large amount of research will be needed to bring them into clinical practice.

Key background

Nerve cells, often called neurons, are specialized cells that carry messages throughout the body. Distributed like a series of electrical wires, they allow different parts of the body to communicate and are central to virtually everything a person does, including moving, speaking, feeling and thinking. Unlike many other parts of the body and unlike some animals, types of salamanders, fish and frogs, we cannot easily repair injured neurons or regenerate lost ones. Nerve-damaging injuries, such as from car accidents, sports injuries, or anything like a stroke or heart attack that constricts blood, can be permanent and potentially devastating, although recovery is possible, at least in part. Paralysis, muscle weakness, numbness, and pain are all possible consequences of nerve damage.

Tangent

Regeneration is one way scientists are trying to help people with nerve damage. Another way, pursued by the likes of Elon Musks Neuralink and the implant company Synchron, looks to connecting the human brain with computers to help restore function lost to nerve damage.

Further reading

Elon Musk hopes to test a brain implant in humans next year (NYT)

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