News archive 2005
Hope for spinal cord injuries13 Dec 2004, PR 78/04
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and King's College London, have developed a new technology that facilitates the return of some muscle function giving hope to those paralysed as a result of a spinal cord injury.
Spinal cord injury is one of the primary causes of paralysis and injuries close to the head cause more widespread paralysis. The spinal cord contains nerves that carry all communications between the brain and muscles and the brain and the skin, nerves which control movement and sensation, respectively. If these nerves are damaged there are two possible ways to restore function to the patient. Either the damaged nerve fibres must be made to regenerate or the remaining nerve fibres must show plasticity and take over the function of those that have been lost. However, after a spinal cord injury the body naturally creates molecules in the scar tissue that actually block nerve regeneration in order to protect the body from infection.
The new technology makes use of enzymes that digest these inhibitory molecules. This allows some nerve fibres to regenerate and promotes plasticity in those that remain bringing back useful muscle function. Currently there are no treatments that encourage the re-growth of nerve fibres in the spinal cord or that help to re-establish connections between the brain and muscles.
The basic techniques involving inhibitory molecules and the first treatments were developed by Dr James Fawcett and his team at the Brain Repair Centre at the University of Cambridge. The spinal cord injury experiments were conducted in collaboration with colleagues in the Professor Steve McMahon’s laboratory at King’s College London.
Dr James Fawcett said: ‘This technology could lead to the first successful treatment for spinal cord injury and should increase the chance of patients regaining some of their lost function after an injury has occurred.’
The University of Cambridge and King’s College London have licensed Acorda Therapeutics of Hawthorne, USA, to commercially develop the intellectual property of this technology jointly owned by the two universities. In return they will receive a sponsored research collaboration, staged payments dependent on achievement of clinical milestones and a royalty on future product sales.
Notes to editors
Approximately 10,000 people a year suffer from a spinal cord injury in Europe, with an average age of 19. Around 400,000 people in Europe alone are paralysed due to damage to their spinal cord.
The Brain Repair Centre, Cambridge University
The Brain Repair Centre was formed to bring Cambridge scientists working across the many fields of modern neuroscience together in cross-disciplinary research efforts directed at the problems associated with preventing or repairing the effects of brain damage. The approach being taken is both a long term one of trying to understand the underlying disease mechanisms, and a more immediate examination of strategies which might have potential for clinical application. Towards this end a major goal of the Centre is to provide a forum for interactions between investigators in the clinical and basic neurosciences. The target diseases of the centre are spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and dementia. Further information is available on www.brc.cam.ac.uk
Dr James Fawcett
Dr James Fawcett is Chairman of the Cambridge University Centre for Brain Repair, Chairman of the Scientific Committee of Spinal Research, and Director of Medical Studies at King’s College Cambridge. He was recently awarded the Reeve-Irvine medal and the Ulrich Schellenberg prize for his research on spinal cord injury.
Professor Steve McMahon
Professor Steve McMahon is Director of the Neurorestoration Group at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, King’s College London. His research group study chronic pain, and the repair of spinal cord injuries.
The Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, King’s College London
The Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases is part of the School of Biomedical Sciences at King’s. The Centre was established on the back of a £6 million grant from the Wolfson Foundation. It brings together clinical and biomedical scientists working on neurodegenerative diseases under one roof, with the aim of speeding up the translation of basic research into the generation of therapies. The Centre was opened on 9 November 2004 by HRH The Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of London. For more information about the research taking place in the Centre visit the Wolfson Centre website.
Acorda Therapeutics, a privately-held biotechnology company, is developing therapies for spinal cord injury (SCI), multiple sclerosis (MS) and related conditions of the nervous system. The Company's marketed product, Zanaflex, is a short-acting drug approved for the management of spasticity. Acorda’s lead product, Fampridine-SR, is being developed in human clinical trials for both chronic SCI and MS. Its clinical-stage pipeline also includes valrocemide, which it is developing with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. for the treatment of epilepsy and bipolar disorder. Additionally, Acorda is developing multiple approaches to the regeneration and repair of the spinal cord and brain. Acorda Therapeutics is available online at http://www.acorda.com/
Corina Hadjiodysseos, Press and Publications Office University of Cambridge Tel: 01223 332300; email: email@example.com
Tierney Saccavino, Acorda Therapeutics Tel: +1 914-347-4300 x104; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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