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Compounds Help Nerves Regenerate


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

April 8, 2002 -- For people with spinal cord injury or neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, one major stumbling block to recovery is the inability of nerve cells to repair themselves. Now, researchers have discovered a set of compounds that may help overcome that barrier.

When nerves are damaged, their signal-conducting coating, a substance called myelin, sends out signals that inhibit repair. If scientists could stop, interfere with, or reverse this signaling, perhaps it would allow the damaged nerves to regenerate.

Ronald L. Schnaar, PhD, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have identified four compounds -- including antibodies and enzymes -- that appear to interfere with this signaling system. When they applied the compounds to damaged rat brain cells, the nerves regenerated.

Until recently, paralysis due to spinal cord injury was considered permanent, with no hope of recovery, but these results add to the growing body of evidence that nerve damage may one day be fixable, says Schnaar in a news release.

They're now testing the compounds in living animals with nerve damage.

"In the human body, nerve damage is much more complicated than it is in our laboratory conditions, and this new knowledge, by itself, is unlikely to solve the problem of nerve regeneration," says Schnaar. "However, it is our hope that our discoveries, along with other new discoveries on the molecular basis for nerve regeneration, will help in the search for therapies to improve functional recovery after nervous system injury or disease."

The team presented its findings today in Baltimore at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting.

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