Every year, between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI), mostly due to preventable causes such as road traffic crashes, falls, or violence. These injuries are not only common, but also very damaging—SCI can lead to neurological disabilities and paralysis, and people with SCI are two to five times more likely to die prematurely than people without SCI. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the damages to the spinal cord, and SCI treatment currently focuses on the prevention of further injuries. In a recent discovery by scientists at Northwestern University, however, a new molecule has been found that can repair and reverse the paralysis caused by SCI.
In order to reverse such damages, tissues and neurons in the spinal cord need to be regenerated. However, it is very difficult to regenerate these tissues, particularly axons—an important part of the neuron that communicates with other neurons. To tackle this long-standing problem, these scientists designed a giant molecule that mimics the proteins in our bodies. They constructed the molecule such that different sides of it would interact with different proteins in the spinal cord, activating multiple pathways of tissue regeneration at the same time. One side of the molecule interacts with a protein known as β1-integrin that regulates growth of neurons, while the other side activates another protein, the fibroblast growth factor 2 receptor, that is known to promote cell growth and survival. Furthermore, the scientists wanted to make the molecule flexible and movable, so that it can interact with the above proteins as much as possible. They played around with the center of the molecule, designing and testing multiple versions until they achieved what resembles a ‘dancing molecule’.
This ‘dancing molecule’ has proven to work very well. It is able to help regenerate axons while allowing more scar tissue to form, which is essential for general tissue repair. It also helps form blood vessels that can deliver nutrients to cells at the injury site, allowing for faster recovery. When treating mice with SCI, they show that they can help mice move their legs again. The video here shows the drastic improvement in the mice’s motor movements.
Overall, this discovery is the first proof-of-concept of how a giant ‘dancing’ molecule and protein mimic can repair and reverse SCI. While more testing is needed before a molecule like this can be used for humans, the possibility of reversing paralysis caused by SCI is proving to be closer.
Zaida Alvarez is a Visiting Scholar at the Simpson Querrey Institute at Northwestern University. She previously obtained a PhD from Polytechnic University of Catalonia, University of Barcelona, and Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia.
Managing Correspondent: Wei Li
Press Article: ‘Dancing molecules’ successfully repair severe spinal cord injuries, Science Daily.
Special bioactive scaffolds lead to greater functional recovery from spinal cord injury in mice, News Medical Life Sciences.
Original Article:Bioactive scaffolds with enhanced supramolecular motion promote recovery from spinal cord injury, Science.
Image Credit: Pixabay