Cancer Drug Helps Nerve Cells Regenerate After Spinal Cord Injury


cancer drug helps nerve cells regenerate

Rat spinal cord: axons (red), synapses (green), motor neurons (blue).
Credit: DZNE/Jörg Ruschel

New research finds that a cancer drug helps nerve cells regenerate after a spinal cord injury.

The spinal cord is a tube consisting of nerve cells that runs from the brain stem down to the small of the back. The purpose of the spinal cord is to transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to the spinal cord often cause paralysis, but this can be avoided if damaged nerve fibers regenerated. This regeneration process is unfortunately made more difficult by the formation of scar tissue, a natural part of the healing process. Now new research by DZNE scientists in Bonn have found a way to prevent formation of scar tissue making it possible for nerve cell to regenerate reducing some of the damage.

Cancer Drug Helps Nerve Cells Regenerate After Spinal Cord Injury

Earlier research have revealed that it’s possible to prevent the formation of harmful scar tissue by targeting a cellular structure, microtubules. These structures give rigidity to cells, just like a skeleton, only on a much smaller scale. Microtubules can shrink or expand dynamically and are involved in cell growth and movement.

The already approved cancer drug epothilone stabilize these microtubules, leading to a reduction in the formation of scar tissue.

“It all depends on the dose,” says Dr. Jörg Ruschel, the study’s lead author. “In higher doses, epothilone inhibits the growth of cancer cells, while low doses have been shown to stimulate axonal growth in animals without the severe side-effects of cancer treatment.” Epothilone is superior to other cancer drugs with a similar effect because it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system, thus reaching the damaged axons directly.

Epothilone reduces the amount of scar tissue by preventing fibroblasts from migrating to the site of a spinal cord lesion. In addition it stimulates nerve cell regeneration by stimulating microtubule growth into the damaged axon tips.

In the study spinal cord injured animals treated with the cancer drug walked better compared to controls, having better balance and coordination as a result of the treatment. The next step for the research team is to evaluate how epithilone works on different types of damage to the spinal cord.