It has been another exciting year in the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility (SCIRF) as the team works on a number of projects developing treatments for spinal cord injury. This is due to the support from the Catwalk Trust in establishing the Facility, which has allowed us to develop a team of researchers and attract funding from other sources to develop and grow our research.
Blocking chronic inflammation
The project to test an existing drug (Tonabersat) to stop chronic inflammation, being carried out by Sheryl Tan and Barbara Fackelmeier and an MSc student Miran Mrkela, is almost complete and we will have results by the end of the year.
A number of projects are underway to test gene therapy approaches to treat spinal cord injury. Following on from his PhD work that used gene therapy to break down scar tissue along with exercise rehabilitation, Jarred has now started a project using this approach after chronic spinal cord injury. If this shows the same benefit as his previous study, this has real potential for people currently in wheelchairs, as well as those with new injuries. A PhD student, Connor Clemett, has started a project to combine this approach with cell therapy. Connor will inject cells into the injured cord that wrap around the nerve cells and improve their connection with other cells. This approach aims to make the new connections that occur stronger, leading to even better outcomes. In future we hope to use a new technology where we can grow these cells from an injured persons skin cells and by using their own cells increase the chance that such an approach will be successful.
Use of multielectrode arrays for guidance of nerve cells
This work, being carried out by Dr Sam Paritt and Dr Zaid Aqarwe (a holder of the prestigious Neurological Foundation O’Brien Clinical Fellowship) and a PhD student Anusha Dravid, to use electrical signals to promote nerve cell growth in the cord is progressing well. We have developed ways of testing the effect of electrical signals on nerve cells taken from the spinal cord and we are able to place out electrodes onto the spinal cord and take readings before and after injury. We will now study the changes in signals that occur with the goal of stimulating the spinal cord to return the signals to normal.
Targeted drug delivery
A project, carried out by an MSc student Julia Newland, to test the use of small packages (called liposomes) to targeting drugs directly to the site of a spinal cord injury has been completed. This approach means the drug will not be broken down in the blood stream and smaller doses can be used, which will mean that unwanted side-effects are less likely. We found that we are able to target these liposomes to the cord. The next step is to further develop these to improve targeting to the cord and then test drugs known to protect the spinal cord after injury to see if targeted delivery gives better results or means we can use lower doses.
(on behalf of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility team)