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A key protein for spinal cord repair is found in zebrafish.


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This seems very promising:

A freshwater zebrafish costs less than two bucks at the pet store, but it can do something priceless: Its spinal cord can heal completely after being severed, a paralyzing and often fatal injury for humans.

While watching these fish repair their own spinal cord injuries, Duke University scientists have found a particular protein important for the process. Their study, published Nov. 4 in the journal Science, could generate new leads into tissue repair in humans.

"This is one of nature's most remarkable feats of regeneration," said the study's senior investigator Kenneth Poss, professor of cell biology and director of the Regeneration Next initiative at Duke. "Given the limited number of successful therapies available today for repairing lost tissues, we need to look to animals like zebrafish for new clues about how to stimulate regeneration."

When the zebrafish's severed spinal cord undergoes regeneration, a bridge forms, literally. The first cells extend projections into a distance tens of times their own length and connect across a wide gulf of the injury. Nerve cells follow. By 8 weeks, new nerve tissue has filled the gap and the animals have fully reversed their severe paralysis.

To understand what molecules were potentially responsible for this remarkable process, the scientists conducted a molecular fishing expedition of sorts, searching for all of the genes whose activity abruptly changed after spinal cord injury.

Top Reddit comment:

Should this be injected into humans in order to regenerate spinal cords? No, mammalian spinal cord injuries are much more complex than zebrafish, and it is unlikely that just increasing CTGFA will result in regeneration. Right now, we don't have any evidence that increasing CTGFA in systems more complex than zebrafish will result in any improvement. If this does play a role in restoring spinal cords, it will almost certainly be part of a much larger, multifaceted treatment. 

When will this show up as a treatment in humans? Right now, they haven't even moved on to applying this information in mice. They need to first figure out if this applies in mammals, and then look at scaling it up to larger animal models. Any possible application of this knowledge to humans is probably a decade away, and when if/when it is discovered, I would not be suprised if the final solution bares no direct resemblance to this finding, with the discovery just being one ring on the chain of discoveries that lead to spinal regeneration.

Will this allow someone with a spinal cord injury to be fixed? My suspicion is that whatever spinal regeneration strategy we develop will first be applicable to people with fresh spinal cord injuries. The formation of glial scar tissue blocking the neural growth, as well as atrophy of the neurons right around the injury site makes me think that it will be easier to try to prevent those problems in the first place, and just have to regenerate the immediate injury, rather than to reverse the effects long down the road.

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