Science/Tech

Pill May Help Paralyzed Patients Walk Again

Researchers may have developed a pill that can bring paralyzed patients to their feet and help them walk once again. The pill would target the injuries of people made paralyzed after spinal cord damage, which severs communication between the brain and the body, and would need to be administered within eight to 24 hours after injury. A study performed on mice found that the drug was able to help paralyzed mice take steps once again.

Conducted by researchers from Ohio State University and Stanford University and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study targeted the oligodendrocyte cells in the body. These cells protect axons, the fibers of nerves, with the myelin sheath. The sheath also helps ensure rapid communication of information between cells. When spinal cord damage occurs, the cells die, prompting the sheath to degenerate. Though oligodendrocyte cells die immediately after damage, scientists discovered that they could stop the cells from dying by targeting a protein called p75. If p75 is inhibited, the damage done to the spinal cord could be minimized. The approach is different than most research being performed to combat paralysis, which focuses on regenerating dead neurons.

The drug, developed by Stanford University professor Frank Longo, is called LM11A-31. The researchers gave three doses of the drug, as well as a placebo, to mice, starting at four hours after injury and then twice daily for 42 days. The drug was not seen to have toxic effects or cause pain. It was able to move effectively past the blood-brain barrier, which can often prevent drugs from properly accessing the brain.

Injured mice lost the function of their bladders and hind limbs. They also had a hard time walking or swimming. After administration of the highest dose of the drug, 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, the mice were able to walk with well-coordinated steps. In swimming tests, the mice were also able to perform a hind limb crisscross movement.

Researchers believe that myelin levels need to be about 50 percent of normal levels in order to measure motor function.

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