In a brief but promising article for the Galveston Daily News, University of Texas medical professors Norbert Herzog and David Niesel highlighted the recent efforts of a group of scientists and researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Wayne State University in understanding and curing cerebral palsy. Led by Dr. Rangaramanujam M. Kannan (Ophthalmology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University) this group is looking beyond standard therapy and treatments with the hopes of using ongoing studies on rabbits as a means of curing this horrible children’s brain disease.
Using a dendrimer – a snowflake-shaped nanoparticle that is 2,000-times smaller than a red blood cell – Dr. Kannan’s team injected newborn rabbits that had been genetically engineered with cerebral palsy with an antioxidant that helped the immune system repair the rabbits’ brains. Within days, the rabbits were behaving like normal baby rabbits, inasmuch as they weren’t exhibiting as many signs of cerebral palsy anymore. In a similar study, Dr. Kannan’s group injected rabbits with only the antioxidant, and very little progress was noted, identifying the dendrimers as the key factor.
According to an April 18, 2012 article in Nature, the International Journal of Science, the dendrimers specifically targeted inflamed microglia, which wasn’t expected.
“You don’t expect large molecules to enter the brain, and if they do, you don’t expect them to target specific cells, and immediately act therapeutically — but all of this happened,” says study co-author Rangaramanujam Kannan…
Additionally, the dendrimers were able to transport the antioxidants across the blood-brain barrier, which is a feat that has typically been difficult because of the barrier’s affinity to rejecting foreign bodies as a means of protecting the brain and its fluid. However, the success of this trial showed that the dendrimers are successful in stopping inflammation and reversing the damage to the brain tissue and cells.
Cerebral palsy typically destroys the myelin that protects the body’s nerves, but in an autopsy of the affected rabbits, it was revealed that not only had the brain experienced less scarring and brain cell deterioration, but the myelin was also more prevalent. Dr. Kannan and his associates believed at the time of this discovery earlier this year that this breakthrough, in addition to stem cell treatments, could completely reverse the damage of cerebral palsy in human subjects.
Additionally, this success against debilitating microglia also has the researchers excited about the possibility of examining dendrimers in similar brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.