Researchers Discover Genes that Repair Spinal Cord in Fish are also in Humans

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 16:26

Researchers from Northwell Health's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research Associate along with colleagues at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) have discovered the genes that repair an injured spinal cord in a fish called the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals.

This discovery is significant because it shows the possibility that the same or similar genes may be used to improve spinal cord repair in other animals and perhaps eventually lead to therapeutic developments for humans, EurekAlert reports.

The discovery shows promise for medicine: if we could one day activate the same gene in humans, we could reverse spinal cord damage - even paralysis.

"Scientists have known for many years that the lamprey achieves spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury, but we have not known the molecular recipe that accompanies and supports this remarkable capacity," says Ona Bloom, an associate professor at the Feinstein Institute and the Zucker School, in a press release.

"In this study, we have determined all the genes that change during the time course of recovery and now that we have that information, we can use it to test if specific pathways are actually essential to the process."

In order to locate the precise genetic changes that allow lamprey to make this amazing recovery, the researchers had to start by first paralysing the animals, which they achieved by making an incision in their spinal cords.

The researchers then took samples from their brains and spinal cords, beginning hours after the injury and continuing over three months following.

Those samples helped them identify what genes and signaling pathways - the proteins and other chemicals produced by cells to control their function - were activated in the injured animals.

Now that researchers know what genetic changes occur during the recovery process, they will be able to test out turning genes and pathways on and off in order to hone in on the exact sequence required for healing. Once this sequence is defined, it could be tested in other animals.

These findings are part of a broader search for a way to treat, if not cure, spinal cord injury.

Scientists have already made progress in using stem cells in rats, brain implants in monkeys, and even electric stimulation in humans to partially or fully reverse paralysis.

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