New Stroke Treatment May Help Heal Brain Injuries

A new stroke treatment is emerging that could bring hope to those with traumatic brain injuries. The treatment works to restart nerve growth, as long as nine weeks after stroke damage. Traditionally, stroke treatments would be ineffective unless given immediately after injury. According to an abstract from the American Heart Association journal, Stroke, anti-Nogo-A immunotherapy can promote new nerve fiber growth in adult rats.[1]

Previous studies have established the feasibility of this treatment for stroke victims, but a new study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders shows the treatment may be even more promising. It could help victims heal nerve damage long after the initial injury.

The Experiment

In the study, researchers trained adult rats to reach for food pellets with their front paws. They then induced the effects of stroke, blocking the middle cerebral artery. This lack of blood flow caused the death of the nerve cells that controlled movement for the rats’ front paws.

Researchers allowed nine weeks to pass before testing the anti-Nogo-A therapy on those animals that showed the most profound problems. These animals were divided randomly into three groups to be given no treatment, a control antibody, or the anti-Nogo-A antibody treatment. Researchers followed up with daily and weekly tests to study the effects of the treatment.

How the Treatment Works

Science Daily further elaborates on the experiment, explaining that Nogo-A is an antibody protein that stops nerves from growing axon fibers. If not for this protein, new nerve fibers would grow uncontrollably, causing constant pain. By using a separate antibody to inhibit the Nogo-A protein, scientists showed that the rats could re-grow damaged axons after stroke.[2]

Stunning Results

Six rats were given the anti-Nogo therapy. The animals regained a stunning 78 percent mobility in the impaired limbs. The animals receiving inactive antibodies gained back 47 percent of the trained ability and the control group only recovered 1/3 of the ability. In examining the brain tissue of the rats, researchers found that those receiving anti-Nogo-A therapies grew a large number of new axonal fibers.

Human Trials Underway

Essentially, the experiment shows that the brain can grow new tissue and heal, given the right assistance. The treatment may prove important to all types of nerve and brain injuries. Although it is early to tell, there is reason to believe the treatment might even older injuries, helping patients regain mobility and brain function.

Currently, Novartis is sponsoring a Phase I trial on human subjects with paralyzing spinal cord injuries. The outcome of this study will tell the medical community much about the feasibility of this treatment in humans.

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[1] http://stroke.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/41/12/2997
[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101207121431.htm

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