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Medicine

Enzyme Found To Help Formation of New Axons 88

Posted by kdawson
from the some-nerve dept.
Greg George writes "Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology have announced that they have found an enzyme that helps nerves to grow in areas damaged after trauma. In typical injuries, scar tissue forms around the damage point and the body removes the tissue so that new muscle and nerves can regrow in the damaged area. In spinal cord injuries, scar tissue forms and that is the end of the story. Special chemicals form that stop the body's cells from moving in and removing the scar tissue and then allowing the healing process to start. Studies have been done attempting to bypass the scar tissue, but none has been successful in large-scale repair of injured muscle and nerves in the spinal column. The researchers for this paper have found that sugar proteins near the damage point stop the healing and that an enzyme can be used to break down these proteins so that the body can then begin repairs. The enzyme, chondroitinase ABC (chABC), is sensitive to heat, and breaks down quickly in a human body. To stop that process they found that by replacing the ABC with another sugar called trehalose, they were able to stabilize the ABC, allowing it to break down scar tissue over a large area. The gel formed by these sugars is stable for up to six weeks in the bodies of test animals, allowing the research team to inject growth factors that increased the healing, to the point that the animals started to use their limbs again. The work is still in the beginning stages." Reuters reporting adds a few more details: "...many other approaches will be needed to repair spinal cord injuries in humans, including controlling inflammation, which can cause additional injury, stimulating nerve fiber growth, and getting nerves to reconnect and communicate with the brain."
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Enzyme Found To Help Formation of New Axons

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  • Oh (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Oh Christopher Reeve,
    Why did you leave,
    Dr. Scientist has arrived with a trick up his sleeve!

  • Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology have announced that they have found an enzyme that helps nerves to grow in areas damaged after trauma.

    I can finally be free of the mental image of goatse!

  • tl;dr (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

    Sometimes I read a summary here on Slashdot and wonder why the submitter left out crucial pieces of information.

    Then there are summaries like this which throw everything and the kitchen sink in. What's worse, there is only one submitted link, so it's not like there are multiple sources gathered together making this summary long, it's just a lazy submitter cutting and pasting from the article.

    Growing axons is a nice step, but Christopher Reeves is dead already. It'll be hard to get another celebrity to put t

    • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Informative)

      by SydShamino (547793) on Friday November 06, 2009 @02:39PM (#30007782)

      It'll be hard to get another celebrity to put their weight behind this kind of research

      You are incorrect.

      I spoke recently with Doctor Charlotte Smith of the Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas, who has seen regrowth of spinal nerve cells in patients undergoing umbilical cord stem cell treatment combined with computer-controlled direct stimulation of detached nerves.

      Her research continues to attract funding, but it began from a rehabilitation center significantly funded by former and current professional football players. Consider someone like Kevin Everett, who, after 15 minutes as a quadriplegic ended his football career, has devoted his time and effort toward raising money for spinal cord research.

      While the brutality of professional football injuries can be tragic, it does instill in many players a need to campaign for a cure. These are the celebrities that step up and put their weight behind the research.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I don't think this kind of research needs a celebrity any more than research into cancer or heart disease does.

    • Then there are summaries like this which throw everything and the kitchen sink in. What's worse, there is only one submitted link, so it's not like there are multiple sources gathered together making this summary long, it's just a lazy submitter cutting and pasting from the article.

      I'm not quite sure what your complaint is. It's too long but doesn't include enough sources? The actual article is here [pnas.org] and the free abstract is here [nih.gov]. The article is 6 pages long, and is obviously quite dense. The slashdot summary is more for general audiences, Greg George could have included more material from the original source, but you're already saying tl:dr. Summarizing biomedical research so that everyone can understand it but including all the essential details is frankly something even biology

  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Friday November 06, 2009 @12:42PM (#30006614) Journal

    Sounds like this is somethign we should be dumping more "Stimulus Money" into so that we can cure people with traumatic nerve damage, this would save countless millions or billions as people confined to wheelchairs would not need so much fiscal support compared to non paralyzed folks.

    If they need human volunteers for trials I don't think they would have any trouble finding any....

    • You can't. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tjstork (137384)

      Everyone seems to think that we can just throw more money at this or that disease and we would have a cure, but, we can't. There are only so many scientists, so much equipment today. If you threw more money at it, you'd probably just be buying the original researchers PostDocs a new car apiece, and maybe funding a Phd or two. If you want more scientists today, start by changing culture 20 years ago.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by clone53421 (1310749)

        If you want more scientists today, start by changing culture 20 years ago.

        I'll get right on that as soon as all the money I've been dumping into time-travel research pays off.

      • Re:You can't. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:18PM (#30006962)

        If you threw more money at it, you'd probably just be buying the original researchers PostDocs a new car apiece, and maybe funding a Phd or two. If you want more scientists today, start by changing culture 20 years ago.

        Bull shit.

        There are plenty of projects that would yield good results out there, and people to do them, but the money is lacking, so said projects get put on the backburner or scaled down. There may be a point at which dumping more money on research will just be wasted, but we are nowhere close to that point. I look at progenitor cells that eventually make up the spinal cord, we use microscopes that cost a lot of money per hour. Really limits the experiments I can do. Extra money would mean I could look at those cells with different markers, under different conditions. Every time I run one of those experiments, I learn more than I was expecting to about how an embryo makes it's spinal cord. Some of those lessons may be useful to treating diseases of the spinal cord or how to repair injured spinal cords.

        To be fair though, some stimulus money has been given out, with some unusual strings attached. And also to be fair, putting "stimulus" money into basic research doesn't seem like a very good way to stimulate the economy in the short term. It's a good long-term investment that does need more money, but stimulus, no. Bottom line though, research could definitely use more money, we're far from saturation, and it would definitely be a better investment than giving it to some fucking bank CEO.

        • Parent is correct, and grandparent is ignorant.

          The vast majority of funding in this field goes to equipment and consumables and not salary.

          During my PhD research, I looked at progenitor cells in the spinal cord as well. Some of my experiments were only feasible if I could analyze the results using a $500k confocal microscope. If I used a "cheapo" $50k fluorescence microscope I was unable to analyze my results. Even a single experiment could cost thousands of dollars just to run, not counting time spent.

          By c

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kaiser423 (828989)
          It is good stimulus funding. You say that you can spend it RIGHT NOW to get more equipment time, etc. That provides an immediate economic benefit right now. It's "shovel ready".

          More time on the equipment means that the owner pays it off faster, making it cheaper in the future, and making them more likely to invest in new machinery, both increasing the infrastructure in the field and increasing capability, as the newer scopes probably have better features.

          I actually had a hard time thinking about a
      • Re:You can't. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:19PM (#30006974)

        This is just not true. Many researchers at universities are having to cut back severally both in personnel and equipment. They are also are being turned down for tenure which encourages them leaving for the privet sector which does more short-term research. While some stimulus money did go to NIH which immediately approved a bunch of grants, the times have been lean for more than 2 years for researchers. All this did was at best bring many labs back to a functional level, not up to maximum research capacity.

        As for the PostDoc cars comment, grad students generally get a stipend of around $22-24K and PostDocs make more but still generally under $45K. And the grants don't boost their stipend, which is a preset amount. Rather, it goes into grant money which is monitored and expenses must be justified. So no, it would go directly into research.

        Yes, throwing money at a problem wont necessarily solve it faster, but in the case of many labs it would in fact allow for faster progress.

        Disclaimer: I work at a university in a biology lab as a research technician.

        • They are also are being turned down for tenure which encourages them leaving for the privet sector

          On the bright side, they are finding a lot of discarded Scrabble tiles.

        • This is just not true. Many researchers at universities are having to cut back severally both in personnel and equipment

          How on earth can universities possibly be cutting back on anything? Increases in federal funding for research have been automatic starting with Clinton, through W, and certainly O is going to jack that up. Tuition is probably the only thing skyrocketing faster than medical expenses and its certainly going up faster than energy, and you've got the Feds willing to bankroll loans to essential

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            How on earth can universities possibly be cutting back on anything? Increases in federal funding for research have been automatic starting with Clinton, through W, and certainly O is going to jack that up.

            Can someone please mod this clown "-1 throwing random bullshit at the wall until something sticks"?

            I work in a biomedical research lab. We're very good at what we do, and so we've managed to maintain our funding, with some cuts. But we watched the funding rate for proposals drop precipitously over the last four or five years -- by 2007 or so, the percentage of proposals being funded (overall, not from our lab) had dropped by something like a factor of five.

            Tuition is probably the only thing skyrocketing faster than medical expenses and its certainly going up faster than energy, and you've got the Feds willing to bankroll loans to essentially subsidize that as well.

            Tuition has nothing to do with research funding.

            If you look at endowments, they tend to be doing fairly well

            S

            • by tjstork (137384)

              Can someone please mod this clown "-1 throwing random bullshit at the wall until something sticks"

              No random b.s. at all. Just cutting through all of your whining.

              I work in a biomedical research lab. We're very good at what we do,

              My point is to look at the total outlays and build to consumers, the university system is much, much more expensive than it was decades ago. You are getting a lot more money, overall. NIH is funding way more research, overall. You have more property rights and vehicles to moneti

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hatta (162192)

        There are many more researchers than there are funds. If anything, we produce too many grad students for the available positions. More money would employ more researchers, and more science would get done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Andy Dodd (701)

        As long as there are graduate students in school worried about whether they'll have a job when they graduate, I have a feeling that providing additional funding for research is not anywhere near a "point of diminishing returns" scenario.

        Also, you comment "there's only so much equipment today" - More/better equipment leads to scientists becoming more productive, in addition to the fact that I don't think there's a shortage of scientists to take advantage of additional funding, the lead time on equipment is f

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by amplt1337 (707922)

        you'd probably just be buying the original researchers PostDocs a new car apiece

        Actually, that sounds like a pretty good way to encourage more people to study science. Then we'll at least change culture today and have a bunch more scientists 20 years from now.

  • Ok, but why...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Friday November 06, 2009 @12:42PM (#30006620)

    "In spinal cord injuries, scar tissue forms and that is the end of the story. Special chemicals form that stop the body's cells from moving in and removing the scar tissue and then allowing the healing process to start."

    I'm assuming this is one of those "the body does this beacuse its better in normal circumstances, but in the case of severe trauma it's not so good" kind of things... but can anyone clarify why the body's normal healing process is blocked for spinal injuries?

    • Re:Ok, but why...? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday November 06, 2009 @12:48PM (#30006688)

      It's an evolutionary advantage for the entire herd when a single injured member is incapacitated, thereby allowing predators to focus on the injured member instead of healthy members of the herd.

      So by basically erasing all hope for recovery for the spinal injury victim, Evolution has enabled the non-injured humans a means of escape from lions, tigers, and bears.

      Since we live in modern society, it's uncommon to see this kind of pursuit. However, evolutionarily speaking, the movement to cities and civilization is a pretty recent phenomenon. Until that fateful event, humans were preyed upon by many other wild animals.

      • Re:Ok, but why...? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by vertinox (846076) on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:12PM (#30006918)

        It's an evolutionary advantage for the entire herd when a single injured member is incapacitated, thereby allowing predators to focus on the injured member instead of healthy members of the herd.

        Not exactly... Its more evolutionary advantageous to the predator that it eats the weakest members of a herd group rather than having to fight the strongest or all of them at once.

        As a weakened or injured member does not actually promote or demote the passing on of genes of other members of the herd as predators aren't as able or willing to catch the healthy ones anyways for the risk reward offer.

        Ergo, the predator is the one that passes on its genes and techniques to its offspring because it is more likely to survive that way where the heard isn't simply evolved to sacrifice its members.

        For example, Elephants will defend their young, injured, elderly, and even corpses from predators and scavengers even though they could spend resources elsewhere. That is more or less an evolved "denial of resources" to its natural predators which in turn makes less of them.

        As far as why animals can't regenerate nerve endings, it has to do more or less that most animals that are attacked and injured don't live long enough anyways after the fact to pass on their genes because of persistence of the predator or infection.

        • by clone53421 (1310749) on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:14PM (#30006934) Journal

          Elephants will defend their young, injured, elderly, and even corpses from predators and scavengers

          They must taste really good. If I tasted really good, I wouldn't want anybody finding out either.

          Oh shit—

        • Not exactly... Its more evolutionary advantageous to the predator that it eats the weakest members of a herd group rather than having to fight the strongest or all of them at once. Whether it's more or less advantageous to the predator is irrelevant. It's the prey's anatomy that has evolved to ensure its survival, and certainly not the survival of its predators.
      • by poetmatt (793785)

        What you're saying makes sense, but it doesn't seem to tie in even remotely as to why specifically spine injuries are prevented from healing.

        From a more logical perspective, I'd guess that perhaps it's due to the necessity to immobilize the area (thus stop healing, unfortunately), to prevent further damage?

        However, I have no idea if that explanation is any more accurate than your own.

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          I think you're closer than they are. My gut says it has more to do with the CNS nerves being encased in a hard shell (skull, spine) for their protection, and that this shell also puts an absolute limit on nerve growth beyond which additional growth would cause damage.

      • by Xoltri (1052470)

        I disagree with this theory because if it were true than none of your injuries would heal, not just spinal injuries. The body is capable of repairing major damage, broken bones etc, even the brain is capable of routing around damages to some extent. I'm certain there is something specific about the way the nervous system works that has the unfortunate side effect of limiting repairs, not the fact that it is an 'evolutionary advantage' to the herd.

        Not only this, but if you look at it from a cost to the h

      • I actually don't think so, but realize that what follows is purely conjecture. It works this way because the specialization and compartmentalization of the central nervous system is beneficial, without taking into account any sort of help to the herd. It prevents damage such as immune problems as well as making the complex central nervous system more efficient and easier to develop. These sort of advantages don't depend on the organism dying, but actually help avoid that outcome.

      • Evolution doesn't work that way, though. Individuals don't evolve to benefit the group, they evolve to benefit themselves. My genes don't give a crap what happens to my neighbors.

        I'm only going on what's in TFA, but they seem to be saying that what happens is that when there's severe damage to the spinal cord, the stress causes spinal cord chemicals (which in ordinary spine operation are beneficial) to form a simple aldehyde called acrolein, which is highly toxic, and this prevents healing.

        In tha
      • Re: group selection (Score:2, Informative)

        by mr_overalls (986559)
        This would make sense if genes operated at the group level. They do not. Groups selection is pretty much discredited as a mechanism of evolutionary change. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814)

        It's an evolutionary advantage for the entire herd when a single injured member is incapacitated, thereby allowing predators to focus on the injured member instead of healthy members of the herd.

        Kin selection, which is what you are invoking here, should generally be the last place you look for evolutionary explanations. It can be important, but it's a second-order effect and is easily incorrectly invoked, as you are doing here.

        Kin selection would operate in this case only because "the herd" consists of clo

      • by noundi (1044080)

        It's an evolutionary advantage for the entire herd when a single injured member is incapacitated, thereby allowing predators to focus on the injured member instead of healthy members of the herd.

        So by basically erasing all hope for recovery for the spinal injury victim, Evolution has enabled the non-injured humans a means of escape from lions, tigers, and bears.

        Since we live in modern society, it's uncommon to see this kind of pursuit. However, evolutionarily speaking, the movement to cities and civilization is a pretty recent phenomenon. Until that fateful event, humans were preyed upon by many other wild animals.

        You're correct, but only if that single injured member was impossible to save. Saving lives is also a part of evolutionary effects, as it further aids reproduction chances of the organism. Evolution is the extended arm of relativity, and evolution is solely based on individual vs. environment. Not smart vs. dumb, or ugly vs. beautiful, or strong vs. weak. It cannot be rightfully explained in any other way than that the organism which is best fitted to its environment will have the best chances of reproducti

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Such a poor understanding of evolution..sigh.

        Evolution is not a tree, and it does not have a goal., It's doesn't make decisions about 'erasing' things.

      • So by basically erasing all hope for recovery for the spinal injury victim, Evolution has enabled the non-injured humans a means of escape from lions, tigers, and bears. Since we live in modern society, it's uncommon to see this kind of pursuit.

        Actually there is a similar circumstance with an opposite effect - bankruptcy. When a modern human becomes insolvent and declares bankruptcy, its predators are prevented from finishing him/her off, instead they must resort to attacking the not-so-weak middle clas

    • Well, kick me if I'm wrong because I'm just learning about this stuff, but I would imagine it has something to due with the fact that the Central Nervous System has its own brand of Macrophages(cell destroying cells) called microglia. This is beneficial because you don't want some crazy regular immune cell going into the CNS and going rambo. I would imagine that the unique histology of the CNS is what causes this difference in the Spinal Cord. I'm certainly open for correction by someone who knows, howev

    • I'm assuming this is one of those "the body does this beacuse its better in normal circumstances, but in the case of severe trauma it's not so good" kind of things... but can anyone clarify why the body's normal healing process is blocked for spinal injuries?

      There's theory [discovermagazine.com] going around that our immune system is at fault for a lot of problems, possibly including this one. Basically your immune response has evolved to be so aggressive that it causes collateral damage to your own cells, like the scene in Team

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      can anyone clarify why the body's normal healing process is blocked for spinal injuries?

      Because until recent times, and with any wild animal, a spinal injury is a death sentence. No way to evolve past it.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday November 06, 2009 @12:45PM (#30006640) Journal
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, it is a great breakthrough and it provides a new understanding and all that. But fundamentally these kind of enzymes and stuff coax the body into healing itself and so their effectiveness is quite limited. Better to go with bio-interfaced electronics. I once saw a documentary where this guy was almost totally burnt in a volcano. The scientists were able to replace all the lost limbs with mechanical, cornea and trachea with mechanical components, a black helmet and a black cape and he was almost as good as new. Cool thing was, though he was modded so heavily, he still had enough mitachloreans and retained almost all the Force he had to begin with. Amazing. I tell you.
  • What possible evolutionary advantage could come from the body interfering with its own nerves regenerating the way the rest of its tissues regenerate?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by roguetrick (1147853)

      The Central Nervous system has its own types of cells called glial cells that are very specialized. These cells provide everything from an immune response to creating a framework for growing neurons. This is advantageous because one of the first structures to develop in an embryo is the central nervous system and having an enclosed environment keeps the CNS from having to deal with a lot of the problems that the other environments of the body have to deal with. It is really a pretty amazing system, you s

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        I know, but why does that separate system actively suppress regeneration? I don't see what environment factor selected for that trait to succeed and perpetuate. What evolutionary advantage does the suppression trait give?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by roguetrick (1147853)

          Yes, it completely divorces the immune system from the central nervous system. Capillaries go into the CNS, but you don't have things like white blood cells in there. This prevents a few things, normal body cells from destroying CNS cells for example. An immune cell destroying nerve cells would be very bad.

  • It'd be nice if I didn't have to go to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] to find out.

    • Humerously enough, I think Axon is used incorrectly. I do believe they wish to create entire new cells, not just axons(though axons make up the majority of the spinal cord and they are quite long).

    • by physburn (1095481)
      Keep learning, an axon is the wiring between the brain cells, its a cord of tissue that grow out of nerve cells in as many as thousands, each one transfers nerve signal, by electrochemical gradients of potassium, sodium and calcium ions. The new enzyme is real breakthrough, by inject it in the required location in the body, we could reconnect broken nerves or incourage learning in the brain.

      ---

      Neuroscience [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • Albeit this kind of goes against the Axon's motto...
  • by structural_biologist (1122693) on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:34PM (#30007152)
    Here's the actual research paper being cited:

    Lee H, McKeon RJ, Bellamkonda RV. Sustained delivery of thermostabilized chABC enhances axonal sprouting and functional recovery after spina chord injury. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2009. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905437106 [doi.org].

    The summary is slightly incorrect in saying that this group discovered that the chondroitinase enzyme can aid in recovery after spinal cord injury (this has been known for a while, see Bradbury et al. (2002) Nature 416:636–640, whom the authors cite). The authors contribution is to engineer a version of the enzyme that is more stable and works better than the natural version of the enzyme. Because the enzyme is more stable than the natural enzyme, the authors can implant a hydrogel at the site of injury that slowly releases the enzyme over the course of two weeks. The authors show that this sustained delivery improves neuron regrowth and the locomotor function of the injured animals compared to just a single dose of the natural enzyme (which degrades relatively quickly after injection).
  • The business about regenerating nerves is exciting, but this also sounds useful for scar reduction/removal.

    I have a couple of keloid scars [wikipedia.org] that it would be nice to be rid of.

  • I wonder if this would also apply to skin? Think about burn victims, mauling victims, organ recipients, intersexed individuals - all of whom often end up with disfiguring and/or painful scars (scars are relatively inelastic). Could this kind of treatment be used to encourage skin to regenerate properly and prevent scars, or even have old scars removed, being replaced with nice smooth elastic skin? Wouldn't it be great if children who are burn victims don't have to be taunted about facial scars?

    Who knows, ma

  • In typical injuries, scar tissue forms around the damage point and the body removes the tissue so that new muscle and nerves can regrow in the damaged area.

    I have a scar on my pinky finger that has degraded my guitar skills because the scar tissue will not go away, which means the nerves are getting blocked and part of the finger is numb. And no, this is not attached to my spine.

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