Approaching Nerve Regeneration After Severe Spinal Cord Injury
The following article details an interview conducted with Dr. Bradley T. Lang from the Department of Neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
In the beginning of the interview, Dr. Lang goes into describing the background for his nerve regeneration research. He stated that in the late 1980’s Dr. Jerry Silver had been able to find the presence of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans in the nervous system. These proteoglycans form barriers that prevent aberrant growth, and for 30 years he has tried to understand why the spinal cord cannot regenerate nerves or grow where they grow. Eventually, after years of research, Dr. Silver found that the glial scar that surrounds the site of trauma after a spinal cord injury happens to be drenched in proteoglycans, preventing any regeneration in the spinal cord. Dr. Lang, in collaboration with a group at Harvard discovered the first receptor for chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, PTPsigma (protein tyrosine phosphatase-sigma).
In the next portion of the interview, Dr. Lang enumerates his own findings during research. First, he and his team, aimed to define why regeneration was not possible: the regenerating axons become stabilized with a gradient of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan, disabling motility. This explains why the axons endure around the glial scar without regeneration potential. Next, they discovered a novel peptide therapeutic that binds the chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans’ receptors. This drug was administered systemically to avoid complications. They tested this drug on rats with severe spinal cord injuries and after several weeks of treatment, they began to regain some function.
At the end of the interview, Dr. Lang calls for “cautious optimism”. He states that the designed drug is easily translatable to humans and seems to be a straightforward treatment. Also, it seems that the treatment will be most helpful for regaining bladder function. Primarily, though, Dr. Lang needs to confirm that the treatment is actually safe for human consumption, so they must run many more experiments in the near future. Hopefully, they will receive the necessary capital to continue their research so that their work will help those suffering from paralysis.