PARALYSED mice have walked again thanks to a break-through gene therapy that’s created hope for the millions of humans with paralysis.
German scientists have demonstrated how they were able to repair the damaged spinal cords of mice by injecting something called a designer protein.
Scientists genetically-engineered a protein that helped the mice repair their damageCredit: Nature
Once injected into the brain, the paralysed rodents who couldn’t use their back legs were back walking again in two to three weeks.
The experiment was conducted by researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.
They developed a protein called “hyper-Interleukin-6” that can stimulate the regeneration of nerve cells that have been damaged.
It was genetically engineered because this type of protein does not occur naturally.
On the left you can see a mouse after week 1 of treatment and on the right is week 8Credit: Nature
The scientists also genetically engineered a virus that could carry the blueprint to the damaged cells inside the mice.
Once this virus was injected and shared the information it carried, the spinal cord cells inside the mice were able to create the protein themselves.
This meant they could regenerate the nerves that send signals from the brain to the spinal cord.
Head researcher Dietmar Fischer told Reuters: “The special thing about our study is that the protein is not only used to stimulate those nerve cells that produce it themselves, but that it is also carried further (through the brain).
“In this way, with a relatively small intervention, we stimulate a very large number of nerves to regenerate and that is ultimately the reason why the mice can walk again.”
The researchers were working with mice that had just been paralysed.
They’re now checking if their protein still has positive effects on mice that have been paralysed for weeks.
This image shows where the injection was put in the mice brains. The researchers are working on another way to administer the treatmentCredit: Nature
This will determine whether the treatment is ready for human trials.
The researchers are also working on a better way to administer the new protein.
Applying a treatment like this to humans would be scientifically groundbreaking.
However, it would first need to be tested on mammals like pigs and dogs.
This is why the researchers have stressed it could be years before the treatment is trialled on people.
What is paralysis?
Paralysis is the loss of function in part or all of the body.
A lot of the time it’s due to damage on the spinal cord.
This can occur when parts of nerve cells called axons are damaged.
This could be due to a traumatic accident like a car crash or a bad fall.
Axons are the part of nerve cells that are responsible for sending signals from the brain to other parts of the body such as muscles and skin.
When they are damaged the communication can stop, leaving a patient unable to move or feel in the effected area.
There is currently no cure for paralysis.
However, there have been occasions when some or all muscle control has returned after treatment for the cause of the injury.
In other news, Chinese scientists say they may have unlocked the key to living longer and reversing the effects of ageing.
A top futurologist has revealed the cut-off date for achieving immortality – and you only have to make it to 2050.
And, a mysterious “eternal life” potion has been discovered inside a 2,000-year-old bronze pot hidden within an ancient tomb in China.
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