Modern medicine is capable of performing extraordinary feats but it is still impossible to repair nerve fibres in the central nervous system (CNS) damaged as a result of spinal cord or brain injury. This means that people who have suffered such injuries are often left with severe impairments such as loss of sensation and permanent paralysis. There is now hope that nerve repair could become a reality one day following a discovery by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Tuebingen in Germany.
The scientific team identified a potential re-growing mechanism underpinned by a protein called P300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF). This protein seems to play a critical part in certain chemical and genetic events making nerve regeneration possible. For people with CNS damage, nerve fibre regeneration offers one of the best hopes for recovery.
The researchers made their discovery during experiments with mice. The animals, which had CNS damage, were injected with PCAF and this led to a significant increase in the number of regenerated nerve fibres. The team concluded there was a possibility that CNS nerve regeneration could be chemically controlled.
Simone Di Giovanni, the Imperial College London professor who led the study, said the next step was to try to restore some movement and function after nerve growth stimulation. Such efforts will involve mice but if they deliver positive results it would be possible to progress to drug development and subsequent clinical trials with people. There are numerous obstacles to overcome but there is hope that this study could lead to a solution for people left immobile by spinal cord or brain injury, Di Giovanni added.