Researchers have long been searching for a cure to paralysis due to spinal cord injuries, especially severe injuries, which can leave a person bedridden for the rest of their life. But the answer might soon be here after ‘dancing molecules’ successfully repaired severe spinal cord injuries and reversed paralysis in a recent study.
‘Dancing Molecules,’ The Cure for Paralysis?
Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a special injectable therapy that uses what they call as ‘dancing molecules’ to repair tissues damaged by severe spinal cord injuries. Not only were the tissues repaired, the test subject was able to walk again after just four weeks.
Published in the journal Science, the researchers shared results from a study involving paralyzed mice that were injected with the ‘dancing molecules.’
This special therapy worked through sending bioactive signals that triggered the cells to repair and regenerate.
The researchers explained that the dramatic improvement was achieved in these ways:
- It promoted the regeneration of axons or the severed neural extensions
- Scar tissues were significantly diminished; these had previously created a physical barrier against regeneration and repair
- Myelin reformed around cells; this layer insulates the axons and is responsible for signal transmission
- The therapy also supported the delivery of nutrients to the injured cells through newly formed functional blood vessels.
- The special treatment also allowed more motor neurons to survive.
“Our research aims to find a therapy that can prevent individuals from becoming paralyzed after major trauma or disease,” explained the study leader, Samuel I. Stupp.
“For decades, this has remained a major challenge for scientists because our body’s central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, does not have any significant capacity to repair itself after injury or after the onset of a degenerative disease. We are going straight to the FDA to start the process of getting this new therapy approved for use in human patients, who currently have very few treatment options.”
How The ‘Dancing Molecules’ Work
The usual transplant works by putting certain tissues or organs that match what the patient needs. But this revolutionary treatment uses ‘dancing’ biological molecules that can match the matrix’s structure and communicate with the living cells.
“Receptors in neurons and other cells constantly move around. The key innovation in our research, which has never been done before, is to control the collective motion of more than 100,000 molecules within our nanofibers,” Stupp explained.
“By making the molecules move, ‘dance’ or even leap temporarily out of these structures, known as supramolecular polymers, they are able to connect more effectively with receptors.”
Once they connect to the receptors, the ‘dancing molecules’ send two signals to trigger cellular and tissue repair. With increased communication between the injured tissues and the brain, repair processes are hastened.
The treatment worked so well that the test subjects (paralyzed mice) were able to regain the ability to walk in as fast as four weeks.
While there’s still a long way to go before this treatment can be replicated in humans, this is clearly a giant step. The researchers believe that this can have universal application and may help treat different human injuries, not just spinal cord paralysis.