Traditional treatment for spinal cord injury often includes more than one therapy, including invasive surgery. For the estimated 1.3 million people in the United States who are living with spinal cord injuries, a new study revealed there may be a non-invasive method to treat limb impairment. According to News Medical, researchers from Ohio State University found that an oral drug given to mice after spinal cord injury improved limb movement, and it could potentially help humans regain lost functions in the future.
Sung Ok Yoon, a molecular and cellular biochemist who was the lead author of the study, observed the effects of an experimental drug called LM11A-31 on mice with spinal cord injuries. The drug, which was developed by study co-author Frank Longo, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University, is the first to be developed with a specific target (p75) as a potential therapy for spinal cord injury.
Although many researchers focus on the regeneration of neurons, Yoon and her team targeted a different type of cell because it allows for a relatively long therapeutic window. Oligodendrocytes surround and protect axons by wrapping them in myelin, which also allows for the rapid transmission of signals between cells. The study tested for the drug’s ability to prevent the death of oligodendrocytes, and researchers found that LM11A-31 inhibited the activation of a protein called p75, which is linked to the death of these specialized cells after a spinal cord injury.
Researchers began giving mice three different doses of the drug four hours after the mice were injured. They observed their walking behavior and conducted a non-weight bearing swimming test in order to assess the properties of motor control or motion. Treatment with the compound lasted 42 days, and the mice that received the highest dose of the drug could eventually walk and move their limbs in a coordinated fashion. LM11A-31 efficiently crossed the blood-brain barrier and did not increase pain or show toxic effects to the animals.
An anti-inflammatory drug called methylprednisolone is a common treatment for reducing paralysis from spinal cord injury, but it must be administered within eight hours but not more than 24 hours after the injury to be effective. Since it takes up to a year for oligodendrocytes to die, Yoon hopes to conduct more experiments to see how effective the drug is if not given until weeks or months after an injury has occurred. Although it’s still too early to determine how the drug will affect humans, Yoon notes that the results “clearly show that this is the first oral drug in spinal cord injury that works alone to improve function.”