Breakthrough in spinal regeneration research

University of Queensland researchers are claiming a breakthrough in spinal regeneration research with the discovery of a molecule that blocks regrowth of damaged nerve processes.

Professor Perry Bartlett, director of UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and a world leader in brain function research, said the discovery would be vitally important in developing potential therapies for people with head and spinal injuries.

“If we can block that molecule shortly after accidents, we predict it would lead to regrowth of the nerve processes and therefore lead to recovery of function,” Professor Bartlett said.

Research on animals had shown that removing the molecule, known as EPHA4, in mice with damaged spinal cords had led to regeneration of nerve processes and dramatic changes in limb usage.

“The mice were able to grasp objects with a limb that had previously been paralysed,” he said.

“We have observed a significant regrowth not seen before.”

He said further research with mice would be directed towards developing therapeutics that can block the action of this molecule and if this proved to be effective, it would be a prospective agent to be used in human trials.

Professor Bartlett is an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, UQ’s Foundation Chair in Molecular Neuroscience and was recently elected a Fellow of The Australian Academy of Science.

The QBI is a world leader in the field of discovering the cellular and molecular mechanisms which underlie the ability of the adult brain to adapt to change by generating new nerve cells and forming new functional connections.

Professor Bartlett presented the findings of his breakthrough research to the Frontiers of Spinal Cord Research symposium held at UQ, Friday, September 17.

Five of the world’s leading spinal cord researchers also spoke at the symposium that was hosted by the QBI in association with SpinalCure Australia.

The speakers were Professor James Fawcett, Chairman of the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, Cambridge University; Professor John Steeves, Director of the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, The University of British Columbia; and Professor Alain Privat, Dr Manuel Gaviria and Dr Helene Hirbec from the Institut des Neurosciences de Montpellier in France.

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