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Medicine Science

Method To Repair Damaged Adult Nerves Discovered 128

Posted by kdawson
from the reconnecting-the-dots dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers have discovered a promising method to regrow damaged nerves in adults. Brain and spinal-cord injuries typically leave people with permanent impairment because the injured nerve fibers (axons) cannot regrow. A study from Harvard and Carleton University, published in the December 10 issue of the journal Neuron, shows that axons can regenerate vigorously in a mouse model when a gene that suppresses natural growth factors is deleted. Here is the journal article (subscription required to view more than the abstract)."
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Method To Repair Damaged Adult Nerves Discovered

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    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:33PM (#30404088) Journal

      Tumors form through uncontrolled growth of cells. Axons are the connections between nerve cells that conduct the nerve impulses. There is no cell division proliferation going on here.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Palpatine_li (1547707)
        you don't regrow broken axons. Neuron cells with broken axons die. All the things about neural regeneration require new-born neurons from glia-like stem cells.
        • The research out there on neural regrowth in adults is very interesting, because, yes, the classical empirical evidence is that damaged neurons go into apoptosis and are cleaned up by glial cells.

          My girlfriend has atypical trigeminal neuralgia and underwent an unsuccessful microvascular decompression on the brainstem (wherein a venous structure was deconstructed and cauterized, a venule was padded with teflon, and a minor arteriole was resectioned and cauterized), followed by a more-successful partial sensory rhizotomy to resection the nerve in Meckel's cave via a 60% cut that ideally would hit most of the group-C fibers. The outcome of the rhizotomy is interesting, because it seemed to take care of the mandibular nerve pain while leading to a very odd outcome. In the vast, vast majority of partial sensory rhizotomies on cranial nerves (meaning more-or-less the ~99% who do not have the horrid-sounding outcome known as anaesthesia dolorosa), the loss of sensation eventually diminishes, as the nerve undergoes restructuring. There seems to be very little information in popular medical literature on the restructuring process, and as I don't have access to any specialized journals (for neurology, neurosurgery, etc.), I cannot find much information; however, it seems to perhaps involve rapid branching of the dendrites in parallel with apoptosis and glial clean-up of damaged neurons. In >90% of rhizotomies, there is little discomfort during this process. My girlfriend is one of the "lucky few" (and by that I mean that her neurosurgeons, Dr. Sekula and Dr. Jannetta, who himself pioneered microvascular decompression and other techniques for trigeminal neuralgia of both types and various types of hemifacial spasm, at Allegheny General Hospital, said they could not even remember the last time they had seen the effect she is experiencing) to have severe discomfort during the restructuring process. This discomfort is a dysthesia characterized by intense sensations of all types from the cranial nerve. She is experiencing sensations of pressure, nociception, touch, and proprioception in all branches of the trigeminal nerve, meaning not only the major three branches (ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular), but the minor branches out of Meckel's cave as well. In addition to that, she is having branching across into adjacent cranial nerves. These sensations range from moderately intense to maximally intense (meaning she is experiencing at times the same sensations someone would have if their skull was being crushed to pulp, or face was being cut deeply open in many places, etc.), but at least they can be controlled somewhat by extremely high levels of antiseizure medication. Between the sensations and medication, though, she is effectively completely disabled while the nerve undergoes this type of healing. The good news is that her neurosurgeons have never seen, either themselves or in any journals, a case of this that does not resolve when the restructuring reaches its end-stage, which occurs after six to twelve months. The intermediate time, though, is Hell for her. I would love to see more research done on this, as I would be curious to see if various signalling mechanisms are not genetically nominal in the <10% of cranial nerve rhizotomy patients who have this type of post-procedural effect.

          Please, let's continue the research on SOCS3 here, and the other research being done out there on the various other known signalling mechanisms [wikipedia.org].

          • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by hesaigo999ca (786966)

            >These sensations range from moderately intense to maximally intense

            You know, with this type of affliction, even though temporary, would lead me to conduct
            my own experiment, had you tried stimulating her clitoris while this was in effect happening,
            I wonder if the sensations being maximized, would have overpowered all others
            and made the only sensation that which was the most pleasing (due to the endorphins)

            • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

              had you tried stimulating her clitoris while this was in effect happening....

              Perhaps you really are so very interested in the neuroscience that this seems, to you, like a pragmatic and reasonable 'experiement.' However, the parent post mentioned later in his discussion that the lady is undergoing, from time to time, experiences equivalent to feeling your skull crushed or your face deeply cut time and again. 'Offering' to conduct an experiment during these types of experiences by means of sexually stimulating a part of her genitalia seems tasteless at best.

              There is a place and ti

              • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

                by hesaigo999ca (786966)

                Poor you for thinking I was being humorous about this. I t is a well documented fact that sexual activity , especially any involving direct stimulation of the clitoris in the woman, ( some even the g-spot) tend to release endorphins that help mask the pain, in men, this can also be observed when a man watches a porno, as men are more visual then women (don't know why...) they to tend to release endorphins, being able to even trigger an orgasm just by watching.

                I have taken quite a few sex-ed classes in unive

          • by rms0 (1698556)
            this would help for a more speedy recovery link www.get-fitt.com
          • by url00 (1345327)
            tl;dr
          • by Shadows (121287)

            Karma be damned, just wanted to give kudos to you for being so involved in your girlfriend's illness. If only we could all be so strong.

        • by Sinning (1433953)
          Of course, maybe there is a way to let the broken axons regrow like TFA says...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kripkenstein (913150)

        Tumors form through uncontrolled growth of cells. Axons are the connections between nerve cells that conduct the nerve impulses. There is no cell division proliferation going on here.

        That's true, the goal here is to let existing cells regrow their axons, not for cells to multiply - which is what cancer is a bad form of. So this might not directly be relevant to cancer.

        However, there are plenty of other ways in which this could turn out to have side effects that make it a bad idea. One basic concern is that there is probably a reason why axon growth is supressed in the central nervous system - after all, the brain is amazingly complicated, and all those connections between brain cells n

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Maybe this will lead t the zombie apocalypse! BRAINSSSS!

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          However, there are plenty of other ways in which this could turn out to have side effects that make it a bad idea. One basic concern is that there is probably a reason why axon growth is supressed in the central nervous system - after all, the brain is amazingly complicated, and all those connections between brain cells need to be of the right kind. If things start connecting where they shouldn't, badness may occur.

          Badness? What do you mean? I can't see any reason train station for thinking that badness blue flower grows on hairy rock under snow go flow sew bow ungh ungh ungh hf h90-39cnba7u3g378fuiai7d7yt5dt5cgb7d6rtcviaskdh jd967d0d867djud9 8d,.... 98tqgo0eb9e

          • by CptNerd (455084)
            (one emergency lobotomy later) "Right, I'm inspector Lookout of the Yard, I understand there's been a murder."
        • by CityZen (464761)

          > One basic concern is that there is probably a reason why axon growth is suppressed...

          Right - we need to be careful where this is applied, otherwise people might start thinking with other areas of their bodies. Oh wait...

          • by citab (1677284)

            I could see one possibility where reconnecting nerves could lead to constant pain and do nothing for any motor functions. In those cases, if the cause of the pain could not be found, the only option would be to cut the newly formed connections.

            I think that would fall in the 'Badness' category.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by NiteShaed (315799)

          Or maybe there's just no particularly good reason for them to regrow, meaning, an organism with a badly damaged brain is in dire shape, and unlikely to live long enough to reproduce. Now, that answer sucks from a "But I don't wanna die!" perspective, but evolution doesn't care about that.
          Now, humans, being a pretty cheeky bunch, have no problem looking at this as a challenge to be overcome, and due to the fact that we can provide an individual with time and the proper environment to recover from this kind

          • by ultramk (470198)

            I doubt this hypothesis for the following reason: the difference between "minor" and "major" brain damage is one of scale, not a qualitative difference. Young animals are treated roughly, injured by their peers and predators more or less constantly. Among humans, minor brain injury resulting in the individual in question just being a bit stupid or clumsy for the rest of their lives is shockingly common, and incredibly so in agrarian societies: the village idiot wasn't always born that way. Having a disabili

        • To speculate further, perhaps some individuals have developed synesthesia after minor brain damage triggered a short regeneration cycle? Also, what happens in the brain during a coma? Why do some comatose people wake up years later, while other take only days?
    • by La Gris (531858) <`ten.eduarion' `ta' `sirg.ael'> on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:40PM (#30404214) Homepage

      Sure, side effects of nerve growth unsuppression has to be studied. It may have implication in brain function disorders as well as elevated risks of tumors.or any other. By the way, this lead the path to further researches on proteins and other chemical treatments that may just temporarily inhibit that suppressor. Benefits risks ratio for a time restricted unsuppression could offer hope and an acceptable solution for nerve injured.

    • by windsleeper (1158491) on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:50PM (#30404380)
      I would think that given the choice between a) curing oneself from being quadriplegic and increasing one's risk of cancer tremendously or b) staying quadriplegic and cancer-free, I think nearly everyone would choose the cure + cancer-risk route.
      • This. Exactly this.

        All medications have side effects, and as consumers of those medications we weigh the potential risks against the potential benefits. In this case, if you're afflicted with a condition that this could cure at the expense of increased risk of (even near-guaranteed) cancer long-term, well, you've got a choice between longevity and quality of life.
      • by bhartman34 (886109) on Friday December 11, 2009 @01:42PM (#30405102)
        As a paraplegic myself (with spina bifida), I'd say that it's not quite a slam dunk that I'd take the cancer risk. It depends on what the increased risk is. Being a paraplegic certainly isn't a roll in the park, but if I had to chose between that and taking a couple of years to die of cancer, I'd take a pass on the cancer. Of course, my willingness to have the treatment would be inversely proportional to that risk, but if the risk of cancer was increased "tremendously", that's not an acceptable risk (to me). I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if I was a quad, though.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CharlieHedlin (102121)

          I'm sure this is also going to vary based upon the level of disability. A C1-2 Quad already has so many possible health risks that a tremendous increase in cancer actually represents an increase if life expectancy. I will leave the quality of life debate for someone else, too many variables and too many different levels of each condition.

      • I think we should keep in mind that this is a purely hypothetical situation. No one is proposing that we cure paralysis by causing cells to overexpress cancer-causing proteins and just hope for the best! From the abstract:

        Together, our results suggest that compromised responsiveness to injury-induced growth factors in mature neurons contributes significantly to regeneration failure. Thus, developing strategies to modulate negative signaling regulators may be an efficient strategy of promoting axon regeneration after CNS injury.

        Much more likely is that someone will find a drug, if it hasn't already been found, that can be transiently applied to the broken axons. That wouldn't "increase one's risk of cancer tremendously."

    • On the other hand, as the cancer grows out of control, you just keep getting smarter and smarter.
    • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      I had a nerve sheath tumor (non cancerous) which the removal of caused nerve damage, so this all is interesting too me.

    • nerve growth unsuppressed == tumors?

      Tumors you can feel.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I've always held that cancer holds within it the secret to immortality. Aging is caused by cells stopping reproduction over time, in cancer reproduction is turned back on and occurs without any regulation. Viable life walks that razors edge between too much and not enough cell reproduction. Find a way to better control it, and cancer-like turning off of the telomeres could be use to extend life.

      In another Zen-like turnabout, if viruses could be modified to make them accurately target only diseased cells,
  • Possibilities? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quangdog (1002624) <quangdog@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:32PM (#30404082)
    Of course I did not RTFA, nor am I trained in any sort of medical field - but I imagine that the possibilities that this might present are astounding. Are they hoping to restore mobility and function to people who have had major nerve damage as in the cases of spinal cord injuries? I thought stem cells were all the rage for that..is this a completely different approach?

    Also - if we can stimulate the growth of nerve cells to help people, can the same therapy be used for nefarious stuff? (i.e., what happens if you grow too much nerves?)
    • by attemptedgoalie (634133) on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:42PM (#30404256)

      (i.e., what happens if you grow too much nerves?)

      You have a lot of nerve asking that question. Or at least the person who underwent the treatment would.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by bmecoli (963615)

        You have a lot of nerve asking that question.

        Oh yeah? Well you've got a lot of cranial accessories.

    • Re:Possibilities? (Score:5, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:44PM (#30404310) Journal

      I thought stem cells were all the rage for that..is this a completely different approach?

      Yes. Stem cells form new specialized cells like neurons; this approach on the other hand involves stimulating existing nerve cells to row more axons which are the electrical connections between nerve cells.

      Also - if we can stimulate the growth of nerve cells to help people, can the same therapy be used for nefarious stuff? (i.e., what happens if you grow too much nerves?)

      Tuberous sclerosis complex [childrenshospital.org] is a disease caused by the growth of too many axons and can manifest in the form of autism and it is also associated with the formation of what are called tubers which are benign tumors in the brain.

      • ... this approach on the other hand involves stimulating existing nerve cells to row more axons which are the electrical connections between nerve cells.

        Which is particularly interesting because (if I understand it correctly) the initial growth of a long axon involves the nerve cell starting where the axon will end, crawling amoeba-style to the vicinity where the (multiple) dendrites will hook up while stringing the axon out behind it, then settling in and putting out the web of dendrites and making synapse

    • Where to go (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheMeuge (645043)

      It's one thing to regrow an axon in a petri dish. It's something else to regrow a 1m long axon inside a fully developed human body, and have it innervate the same muscle (for example) that the damaged axon connected to. It's not going to be a trivial challenge. This may have an impact in some traumatic injuries where the bundle can be reconnected before it's scarred shut or resorbed. For chronic conditions, this isn't going to have a direct impact in any near future. An exciting development nonetheless. Wil

      • Well, in TFA it states they regrew them in a live mouse, not a petri dish. But yeah, a mouse isn't exactly a human either.
  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Made me remember natural parenting [xkcd.com]. Hope it dont applies to this case too.
  • "when a gene that suppresses natural growth factors is deleted"

    That might lead to cancer, as some studies show:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=1Ap&q=growth+factor+cancer&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g-c2g-m2 [google.com]

  • Sadly, this news is a little to late for Christopher Reeve [wikipedia.org]...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tetsujin (103070)

      Sadly, this news is a little to late for Christopher Reeve [wikipedia.org]...

      Yes, but it'll be ready just in time for Worf's spinal injury...

    • by Caged (24585)

      Heh, I had the exact same thought when I was reading the slashdot submission. 5 years too late.

      This is something he was working towards for the last years of his life, the ability to regenerate nerve endings and methods of recovering from spinal injuries and campaigned hard against the ban of stem cell research (to no avail).

  • will this cause cancer in laboratory rats?
  • Excellent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jimbobborg (128330) on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:41PM (#30404234)

    Will this work for hearing? Abusing my ears with loud music and gun fire has resulted in some loss of hearing for me. Since I won't read the subscription article, does it say it works for all nerves or just the spinal stuff?

    • Re:Excellent (Score:5, Informative)

      by rpresser (610529) <rpresser@ g m a il.com> on Friday December 11, 2009 @12:43PM (#30404280) Homepage

      Hearing loss from loud sounds is more likely due to damage to the hair cells in the cochlea than nerve damage.

      • by kcdoodle (754976)
        This might work for nerve deafness.

        However, if it is tinnitus (ringing of the ears) you are concerned with, you should check out the work of Dr. Raphael Yoesh at the University of Michigan.

        Also read some of the papers written by Geoffery A Manley on the subject.

        It seems that birds can regrow the hairs (cilia) in the inner ear, but mammals cannot.

        Now if only I could get the hair growing out of my ears to grow in my inner ear, I would be okay. (What?) (What?)
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Lucidus (681639)
          Did you spell those name correctly? Dr. Manley's first name is Geoffrey, and Google doesn't find anything at all for Dr. Yoesh. I'm sure I'm not the only slashdotter who would be interested in more information about tinnitus - my local audiologists are helpless. If you can supply more detailed directions, it would be greatly appreciated.
          • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

            This isn't related to your question exactly, but I've found magnesium supplements help (i.e. completely get rid of) my admittedly minor tinnitus. If you're not trying them, it may be worth it - I went to two specialists and neither of them mentioned it, then happened to run across a reference online and decided to give it a try.

          • by kcdoodle (754976)
            Sorry -- I screwed up! It is Dr. Yehoash Raphael. His Email is a shortened version (which I will not disclose here.) I am not sure which name is his firstname and which is his lastname. And yes Dr. Geoffrey Manley is correct.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by D Ninja (825055)

        Hearing loss from loud sounds is more likely due to damage to the hair cells in the cochlea than nerve damage.

        But, I have all sorts of hair growing out my ears. Why can't I hear!?

        • But, I have all sorts of hair growing out my ears. Why can't I hear!?

          because of all the hair growing out of your ears?
    • I think most ear damage has nothing to do with neurons, unless you have tinnitus and no one is quite sure how to fix that.
    • Abusing my ears with loud music and gun fire has resulted in some loss of hearing for me.

      I want to party with you, guy.

    • by CaseM (746707)

      Sorry I can't be more help, but I found a great podcast [podcastdirectory.com] on ear damage and hearing loss for you.

    • by Lanforod (1344011)
      Hmm, I'm doubtful this particular research would apply to your type of hearing loss. I have a profound hearing loss myself as an after effect of having meningitis as a toddler. I'm fairly certain that my hearing loss is direct nerve damage, so I'm very interested in research about regrowing/repairing damaged nerves.
    • A few years ago, some researchers from my hometown made some significant discoveries regarding regenerating auditory nerves. (I used to hang out with a relative of Helge, so this was very easy for me to google.)

      "In 2004 Helge Rask-Andersen and his associates found immature stem cells in the inner ear of adults, a sensational piece of news in the research world. They have also managed to cultivate hearing nerves from stem cells and human tissue from donated cochleae."
      http://www.physorg.com/news159637580
  • Oh, and ask him how that GRAF shield is coming while you're at it...

  • When will this treatment become available in the black market neuro shops in China City?

  • "CNS Injury

    Injury to the central nervous system (CNS) including the brain and spinal cord are major health problems both nationally and internationally. More than 2 million people in the U.S. suffer traumatic brain injuries annually, well over 500,000 people per year suffer from stroke, and at least 10,000 people per year suffer spinal cord injuries. "

    CNS injury is mentioned in the Neuron abstract.

  • "Mein Führer, I can walk!"

  • With this latest scientific advance, complaining that your nerves are shot loses all meaning.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday December 11, 2009 @01:16PM (#30404716)
    First you got to migrate it it to humans.
    There there several levels of testing before its even allowed ver much in humans in the US.
    Sometimes things will be available abroad before the US if you are lucky. Some spine-damaged patients already try things in Israel and China based on stem cells. but not available in US.
  • Be smarter to rename it just in case.
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Better to move the gene to the recycling bin, to make sure it doesn't accidentally get used.
  • by PPH (736903) on Friday December 11, 2009 @01:31PM (#30404930)
    Its called "sending the kids to summer camp".
  • Or does that kind of genetic manipulation need to take place in the zygote? No, I didn't read the subscription link.
  • Bad news for wheelchair manufacturers.
  • ...a method of getting doctors (or the average Joe) to even allow themselves to think about actually preventing to fuck up their own nerves in the first place would be discovered. ^^

    It’s nice and all that we can fix everything. But in the long run, what is it teaching us, when we can just ride a pony that’s 300 ft tall and covered in chainsaws, and get away without a scratch afterwards?
    Even asking a doc what the cause of your disease is, and how to actually prevent it from happening again, will

  • I'm guessing it's far too new to help my mom though. (Who has that. Definitely not a disease to get.)
  • Could this somehow be used to help re-grow the axons myelin coating without causing the axons themselves to grow, in order to treat MLS patients?
  • I can't RTFA so I'll rely on those smarter than me on here for an educated guess/answer: Could this help my son with Cebral Palsy (resulting from diffuse periventricular leukomalacia), or are stem cells still the best bet? I know it's hard to determine without specifics, but a good guess would help. Thanks.
  • So does this go beyond repair? Can the nerves be enhanced? For example, not everyone is built the same...down...there... Not everyone is as sensitive as the other. So could this technology be used to create new nerves?

    Just image a new wave of spam!

  • science makes great strides towards achieving the forthcoming zombie apocalypse

  • That way he can get his spine fixed and I can get my $7.50 back.

    • That way he can get his spine fixed and I can get my $7.50 back.

      Not so fast, in the future, government controls medicine...

      (the future is about 2 years away)

      • That way he can get his spine fixed and I can get my $7.50 back.

        Not so fast, in the future, government controls medicine...

        (the future is about 2 years away)

        Get out of our thread, poli-troll!

        (Also, there have never been any serious proposals to eliminate private healthcare. Even communist China has private medicine.)

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