Touching Lives - November 2005
Collaboration on nerve recovery
With funding of more than £128,000 from Action Medical Research, researchers have been looking at improving nerve regeneration in order to reduce the amount of time that a muscle is without nerve support. In a collaboration between researchers at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London and the University of Manchester, the effects of applying growth factors (small proteins that promote survival and regeneration of nerve cells) within artificial nerve grafts were tested.
Using a laboratory model of nerve injury, the team tested the effects of 3 growth factors; NT-3, NT-4 and BDNF.They were particularly interested in finding out whether NT-4 treatment of damaged nerves would improve the recovery of slow-contracting muscles, like the weightbearing muscles responsible for posture. Crucially, the team found that NT-4 did promote recovery of these muscles.The research also revealed that NT-3 causes recovery of fast-contracting muscle fibres, whilst BDNF had very little effect on muscle recovery.
Using the new technology of proteomics [the in-depth study of proteins — Ed], the work has also shown that treatment with growth factors leads to specific molecular changes within the spinal cord, identifying new avenues for further research and possible new therapies.
Although the clinical benefits still lie in the future, trials of nerve growth factors in patients within the next few years are a real possibilty.
Dr Coulton, a leading expert in treating nerve damage, who headed the study told us “With support from Action Medical Research, we have been able to study novel ways of promoting nerve regeneration and preventing muscle wasting. Although much more research needs to be done, we hope that in the future our findings will help pave the way to new drug treatments to enhance the surgical repair of damaged nerves.”