Scientists at King’s College in London, UK, have found that rats with spinal cord lesions can regain coordinated hand movements after treatment with gene therapy. Individuals with spinal cord impairment often forfeit the capability of carrying out day-to-day tasks that involve well-coordinated hand movements, such as writing, brushing their teeth, or holding things in their hands. Therefore, recovering hand functionality is a high priority for most patients and would drastically increase self-reliance and improve their quality of life.
Currently, there are no available therapeutic regimens to recover hand functionality in cases of spinal cord lesions. So the authors of this investigation, which is described in detail in an essay published in the Brain journal, experimented with new gene therapy to repair the deteriorated spinal cord tissue that might be switched on and off with a conventional antibiotic.
Gene therapy recovered coordinated hand movements in rats with spinal cord lesions
“The exciting thing about our approach is that we can precisely control the duration of therapy by using a “switch” of genes. That means that we can perfect the optimal amount of time needed for recovery. Gene therapy provides a way to treat large areas of the spinal cord with a single injection, and with the “switch” we can now turn off the gene when it is no longer needed,” explained Elizabeth Bradbury, a researcher from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience (IoPPN).
A spinal cord injury forms a sort of a scar that prevents connections between nerve cells. Gene therapy forces cells to produce chondroitinase, an enzyme that was observed to break down the scars and allow nerve cells networks to recover.
“Rats and humans use a similar sequence of coordinated movements to reach for and grasp objects. We found that when the gene therapy was activated for two months, the rats were able to reach and grasp the sugar granules accurately,” explained Professor Elizabeth Bradbury.
Unfortunately, this gene therapy is not yet suitable to be tested in humans.