Nutlins: A New Hope for Spinal Cord Injury?
A group of drugs currently being trialled for cancer treatments could also herald advances in the formation of a treatment for spinal cord injury.
Researchers at Imperial College London have been undertaking studies on mice and their reactions to a group of oncological drugs called Nutlins, which have been used to suppress the growth of tumours.
As a bi-product of their research, which has been published in the neurology journal Brain, they have discovered that in animals with spinal cord injuries, when treated with these drugs, were able to recover far more movement than those that did not receive the drug. An astonishing 75% of adult mice who underwent this procedure went from being completely paralysed to being able to walk on a ladder.
Regenerating Nerve Fibers After Spinal Cord Injury
The studies have shown, so far, that in mice with a spinal cord injury, this drug encouraged and aided nerve regrowth and directly led to improvements in the injured spinal cord. The drug was able to achieve these spinal cord improvements as Nutlins prevented a specific class of proteins from conjoining to restrict nerve growth; it is through a genetic deletion of regenerative inhibitors that the nerves were enabled to regrow and repair and ultimately to achieve a functional recovery.
The results of this study are exceptionally encouraging as currently there is no treatment for spinal cord injuries, as nerves in the spinal cord, such as those in the brain, do not regenerate after injury.
However, as with every early study its limitations are very apparent. Firstly, as Professor Simone di Giovanni, who has been heading the research at Imperial College London, points out we are clearly a very long way off translating this research into clinical applications. Secondly, the mice model of spinal cord injury that was used differs enormously from what is commonly found in human cases.
Subsequently, the researchers are looking to take this information and duplicate the experiment in rats with spinal cord injuries, as their spinal cord represents that of a human's far more closely, due to similarities in cavity formation.
Finally a treatment for Spinal Cord Injury?
This being said, there is still a huge amount of hope that can be taken from the study. Prof. Simone di Giovanni then went on to explain how he and his team were very surprised by the consistency in their findings and the astonishing degree of recovery found in adult mice with spinal cord injuries.
If all goes well and the studies on rats prove just as consistent, Nutlins could be tested in human patients within 10 years and this, albeit a decade away, is a major advancement in currently treatment-less spinal cord injuries.