Dec. 10, 1999 Montreal: Monday, December 6, 1999 - A team of scientists from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), McGill University and Université de Montréal today announced a major advance in the struggle to find a treatment for spinal cord injuries.
"We have successfully tested a new vaccine approach to block molecules in the spinal cord that prevent nerve regeneration," says Dr. Samuel David of the Montreal General Hospital Research Institute, MUHC and the lead investigator on the project. "The regrowth we have obtained using this technique is far greater than any that has been reported previously. This is a significant advance in the field, and changes the way we think and work toward the development of therapeutic strategies to eventually treat spinal cord injuries in humans."
"Spinal cord injuries are often sustained by young adults leading to a lifetime of disability," points out Dr. Peter Braun of the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University. "Since there is no cure to repair damaged nerve fibres in the injured spinal cord, the paralysis, sensory loss and loss of bladder and bowel control are permanent. Research carried out by our group in Montreal revealed that there are several molecules that can inhibit and prevent nerve regeneration. Myelin, a fat rich insulating membrane that wraps around nerve fibres contains these inhibitory molecules. The vaccine approach we have tested is able to block these inhibitors without producing unwanted side effects."
Dr. Lisa McKerracher of the département de pathologie et biologie cellulaire at the Université de Montréal describes the advance as "a relatively non-invasive strategy to stimulate the animal¹s own immune system to produce antibodies against proteins that inhibit the regrowth of axons or nerve fibres." "Moreover," she continues, "this vaccine approach allowed us to target many types of inhibitors not just one as has been the case in the past."
The developments announced today by Drs. David, McKerracher and Braun were published in the November issue of the international Neuroscience journal - Neuron. Their findings were also selected as one of three papers on nerve regeneration to receive special attention at last month¹s international meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Miami.
Dr. David says that the next step towards making this discovery suitable for clinical use will be to identify other inhibitors. Then a cocktail of purified inhibitors can be tested in the laboratory for use as a vaccine in humans. "But there is much basic science work and testing ahead of us before we reach that stage," he cautions. "However, this is an important milestone toward the development of a treatment for spinal cord injuries."
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