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‘Dancing molecules’ successfully repair severe spinal cord injuries

After single injection, paralyzed animals regained ability to walk within four weeks


Northwestern University researchers have developed a new injectable therapy that harnesses “dancing molecules” to reverse paralysis and repair tissue after severe spinal cord injuries. 

In a new study, researchers administered a single injection to tissues surrounding the spinal cords of paralyzed mice. Just four weeks later, the animals regained the ability to walk.

The research will be published in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal Science. The study is now available online.

By sending bioactive signals to trigger cells to repair and regenerate, the breakthrough therapy dramatically improved severely injured spinal cords in five key ways: (1) The severed extensions of neurons, called axons, regenerated; (2) scar tissue, which can create a physical barrier to regeneration and repair, significantly diminished; (3) myelin, the insulating layer of axons that is important in transmitting electrical signals efficiently, reformed around cells; (4) functional blood vessels formed to deliver nutrients to cells at the injury site; and (5) more motor neurons survived.

More about the study

Other Northwestern study authors include Evangelos Kiskinis, assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience in Feinberg; research technician Feng Chen; postdoctoral researchers Ivan Sasselli, Alberto Ortega and Zois Syrgiannis; and graduate students Alexandra Kolberg-Edelbrock, Ruomeng Qiu and Stacey Chin. Peter Mirau of the Air Force Research Laboratories and Steven Weigand of Argonne National Laboratory also are co-authors.

The study, “Bioactive scaffolds with enhanced supramolecular motion promote recovery from spinal cord injury,” was supported by the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Center for Regenerative Nanomedicine at the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, the Air Force Research Laboratory (award number FA8650-15-2-5518), National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging (award numbers R01NS104219, R21NS107761 and R21NS107761-01A1), the Les Turner ALS Foundation, the New York Stem Cell Foundation, the Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation (award number PVA17RF0008), the National Science Foundation and the French Muscular Dystrophy Association.

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