Using a designer protein injected into the brain, German researchers have enabled mice paralysed after spinal cord injuries to walk again, re-establishing a neural connection previously believed irreparable in mammals.
In humans, spinal cord injuries, mostly caused by sports or road accidents, leave them paralysed, and not all of the nerve fibers that carry data will develop back between muscles and the brain.
But researchers at Ruhr University Bochum succeeded in stimulating the nerve cells of the paralyzed mice to regenerate using a designer protein.
“The special thing about our study is that the protein is not only used to stimulate those nerve cells that produce it themselves but that it is also carried further [through the brain],” the team’s head Dietmar Fischer told Reuters in an interview.
“In this way, with a relatively small intervention, we stimulate a very large number of nerves to regenerate and that is ultimately the reason why the mice can walk again.”
The paralysed rodents that received the treatment started walking after two to three weeks, he said.
The treatment involves injecting carriers of genetic information into the brain to produce the protein, called hyper-interleukin-6, according to the university’s website.
The team is investigating if the treatment can be improved.