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Can a Cancer Drug Help to Re-Grow Spinal Cord Fibres?

A group of international researchers led by DZNE scientists in Germany have found a way to stimulate damaged spinal cord nerves using the cancer busting drug, epothilone. This is being hailed as a potential breakthrough in the treatment of spinal injuries, as not only does epothilone aid in the regeneration of nerve cells, but it has the ability to reduce the formation of scar tissue at the site of the spinal injury, plus it’s already on the approved drugs list.

Reducing formation of scar tissue and stimulating growth of damaged nerve cells

While some nerve cells in other parts of the body, for example the limbs and torso, are able to repair and regenerate to regain some or full function, the neurons in the brain and spinal cord don’t have the same abilities. When the spine is injured, either by accident or disease, the nerve cells lose their ability to transmit and receive electrical impulses, resulting in paralysis or other forms of disability. Damage to the spinal cord can rarely heal as injured cells are unable to regenerate, with scar tissue inhibiting any re-growth of the nerve fibres. However the research carried out by Professor Frank Bradke and his team has shown the epothilone was able to both reduce the formation of scar tissue in spinal injuries and stimulate growth in damaged nerve cells. What’s more, the drug appeared to promote regeneration of the neurones and improve their motor skills too.

How does epothilone work?

The research carried out at the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn showed that systematic administration of the cancer drug epothilone promoted axon regeneration in animals. This was achieved by stabilising microtubules which activated the growing tip of the injured nerve cells, while simultaneously disrupting the cells that formed the scar tissue, thus allowing the axons to leave the site of the injury. Furthermore, the animals receiving epothilone were better able to walk following treatment and exhibited improved balance and coordination.

Bradke and his team now plan to test the effects of the drug on various types of lesion but so far, their research is looking extremely positive.

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