German researchers enabled mice paralyzed after a spinal cord injury to walk again, and recreated the neural link that had hitherto been considered irreparable in mammals using a designer protein injected into the brain.
In humans, spinal cord injuries, which are often caused by sports or traffic accidents, render them paralyzed because not all of the nerve fibers that carry information between the muscle and the brain are able to grow back.
But researchers from the Ruhr University in Bochum were able to stimulate the paralyzed mice’s neurons to regenerate using an engineered protein.
“The unique thing about our study is that the protein is not only used to stimulate the neurons that produce them on their own, but is transported further (via the brain),” team leader Dietmar Fischer told Reuters in an interview.
“In this way, with a relatively small intervention, we stimulate too many nerves to regenerate and that is ultimately why the mice can walk again.”
He said the paralyzed ferrets that had received the treatment began walking after two to three weeks.
The treatment includes injecting genetic information vectors into the brain to produce a protein, called hyper-interleukin-6, according to the university’s website.
The team is investigating the possibility of improving treatment.
“We also have to see if our method works on larger mammals. We were thinking of pigs, dogs or primates, for example,” Fisher said.
Then, if it works there, we will have to make sure the treatment is safe for humans as well. But this will definitely take many years. “