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

6 thoughts on “New Molecule Repairs Spinal Cord Injury, Helping Paralyzed Mice Walk Again

  1. I know everybody is wondering when they will have human clinical trials but is there gonna be an age restriction on the trials which you know four years out from injury 66 years old Asia Dee C-4 C-5 injury

  2. I am very excited to see this excel into clinical trials and after recently suffering from a spinal cord injury I am hoping this procedure works . I am very interested in having it performed .

  3. Hey my name is Malik and im 24,I’m currently paralyzed from the stomach down I recently received the injuries in February 14 2022 and I just got discharged from the hospital, I’m currently receiving help but throughout my 24 years of living I’ve been independent and was the provider so if there’s any help please get back to me

  4. Hello my name is R Keith and Im a paraplegic who lives with an T-8 and T-9 injury , I would not wish for anyone to experience such pain , my pain feels like Im hanging with a rope around my waist at all times until Im asleep . I have read so many news articles and tabloids of reverse treatment . Northwestern University Scientist say they are confident and ready but are waiting for the FDA to approve the treatment. Im a USA retired Vet who joined to serve my country , yes the proud the brave and Im willing to sacrifice my life doing the stem cell trial with scientist at NW University . Why sit on such a project , in order to get something going there must be a start , does anyone care about the suicide rate of SCI persons , the cost of USA dollars spent , are medicaid and medicare ending , how about a radiation problem that will occur near in the future , computers taking over more and more jobs , and testing of missiles causing people to be on ventilators , maybe a pill would have to take the place of a whole steak dinner and expand to fill a person up due to food shortage , the point is that grown ups figure they will be dead and gone by all of these times , and are not worried about WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM , and forget about there children and children’s children life and so on . Im requesting help with my inquiry of going threw treatments , testing are whatever is needed for the clinical trial to reverse paralysis , this is my decision . I would like to be one of the first to help my country save money in this area of SCI , it would be a great pleasure , I wish no one to fill sorry for me , no one was sorry for me when I decided to serve my country , all friends family and my country were proud of me , and on Veterans day I still get to hear thank you for your service . I have been a paraplegic for 15 yrs , Doctors and Neurologist have informed me of all sickness like , bone deterioration , kidneys and more skin break downs to occur as long as Im living , the worst is to come . I want my letter to be know to any Government politicians are even the President himself with your help in order to get me approved as a candidate for stem cell treatment , It’s impossible to approach an achievement when there is no starting point . a soldier is only one person who cannot be a whole army , and trying to accomplish alone is no team work .

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