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Researchers create molecule to restore lost connections to the spinal cord and brain

Researchers have created a molecule that can restore lost connections to the spinal cord and brain on mice with neurological disorders such as spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease and cerebellar ataxia, according to a recent article in Business Weekly.  

Scientists from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LAB) in Cambridge, along with collaborators from Japan and Germany, carried out the research which details how the molecule (CPTX) repaired functions in cells and in mouse models of diseases and injury.   

Synthetic “molecular bridge” 

Taking inspiration from the way brain cells connect, the team created a synthetic “molecular bridge” which allows “new interactions and opens the way to various applications in neuronal circuit repair and remodelling.” The design can also be extended to connect other cell types or be used to remove connections in other disorders such as epilepsy. 

Radu Aricescu, of the MRC LAB says: “Damage in the brain or spinal cord often involves loss of neuronal connections in the first instance, which eventually leads to the death of neuronal cells. 

“Prior to neuronal death, there is a window of opportunity when this process could be reversed in principle. We created a molecule that we believed would help repair or replace neuronal connections in a simple and efficient way.  

“We were very much encouraged by how well it worked in cells and we started to look at mouse models of disease or injury where we see a loss of synapses and neuronal degeneration.” 

After carrying out successful cell culture experiments, the team tested their molecule’s effect in mice with cerebellar ataxia - a condition that can result from numerous different diseases and results in patients suffering issues with balance, eye movement and posture.  

Findings 

When the molecule was injected into the brains of the mice, researchers saw the neuronal tissue repair and witnessed improved motor performance. Encouraged by these results, they then sought to investigate if similar effects could be seen in other mouse models of neuronal loss and degeneration – including spinal cord injury and Alzheimer’s disease.   

The results were remarkable and included restored neuronal connections and improvements in memory, coordination, and movement tests.  

When CTPX was injected into the brain of the mice with ataxia, the positive impact of the molecule was observed for around seven days. However, the greatest impact was with the mice with spinal cord injury – here motor function was restored for a minimum of seven to eight weeks after just a single injection into the site of injury.  

Following this breakthrough, new and more stable versions of CPTX are currently being developed – although the scientists involve warn that a lot more research will be needed to see if these findings in mice are also applicable to humans.  

Radu Aricescu adds: “There are many unknowns as to how synaptic organisers work in the brain and spinal cord, so we were very pleased with the results we saw.  

“We demonstrate that we can restore neural connections that send and receive messages, but the same principle could be used to remove connections. The work opens the way to many applications in neuronal repair and remodelling: it is only imagination that limits the potential for these tools.” 

Lesley Herbertson, a Partner within our renowned clinical negligence team, comments:

"The news about the ongoing molecular research that is being carried out at MRC Lab in Cambridge, as well as elsewhere, brings with it a sense of hope for spinal cord and brain injured patients. Whilst the research remains at the very early stages, one can dare to imagine what the implications might be for some of the most disabled, in years to come.
"Unfortunately, these medical advances will not be able to improve the quality of life of those living with catastrophic injury currently. Instead, they will rely upon existing and improving technology, treatments and rehabilitation therapies. It is always our aim to put our severely injured clients in the position where they can access such support at the earliest opportunity. And, of course, at some point in the future, we will be doing everything that we can to give them access to any life-changing developments in science that become available."

Lesley is a Partner within our renowned clinical negligence team. Should you wish to contact Lesley regarding clinical negligence or spinal cord injury, please call 0800 027 2557 or you can contact Lesley driectly here