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New Findings in the Study
of Spinal Cord Injury

By Jennifer Bonck

 

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Stephanie Nottingham, graduate student, and Joe Springer, Ph.D., professor, anatomy and neurobiology, UK College of Medicine have demonstrated that the immunosuppressant drug FK506, also known as tacrolimus, can prevent the delayed degeneration of the oligodendroglial cells in the experimentally injured spinal cord.

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Lexington, Ky. (Nov. 5, 2002) -- A drug currently used for treating organ transplant rejection prevents the delayed degeneration of nerve cells in spinal cord injury, according to the results of a study at the University of Kentucky Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center (SCoBIRC).

Stephanie Nottingham, graduate student, and Joe Springer, Ph.D., professor, anatomy and neurobiology, UK College of Medicine have demonstrated that the immunosuppressant drug FK506, also known as tacrolimus, can prevent the delayed degeneration of the oligodendroglial cells in the experimentally injured spinal cord.

This is the first demonstration of a specific drug therapy that blocks the loss of these cells.
The results of the study have been published in Experimental Neurology, a leading neurosciences journal.

Oligodendroglia form the insulation for spinal cord nerve cells; this insulation is essential for nerve cells to conduct impulses from the brain to the spinal cord. The delayed loss of these cells after spinal cord injury is likely a major reason for the limited neurological recovery seen in many spinal cord injury victims. Finding a drug that would protect these cells eventually may lead to an improvement in the recovery and quality of life of spinal cord injury patients.

This project is a highly promising step in that direction. "If the ongoing work in Dr. Springer's laboratory continues to show promise for the treatment of acute spinal cord injury, a clinical trial with FK506 should be feasible," said Edward D. Hall, Ph.D., director, SCoBIRC, UK College of Medicine. "This is highly possible because the drug is already marketed for human use."

The laboratory of Pamela Knapp, Ph.D., associate professor, anatomy and neurobiology, UK College of Medicine, was integral to the success of the study. Knapp and Springer, in addition to their primary appointments in anatomy and neurobiology, are faculty associates of SCoBIRC. They and 21 other faculty at the Center, created just over four years ago, are actively exploring various potential drug, cellular transplant, rehabilitation or biomedical engineering treatments for spinal cord and brain injury. These efforts focus on preventing the secondary degeneration of nervous tissue after traumatic injury or promoting functional recovery.

Springer has great hope for the future of spinal cord injury research.

"The spinal cord will tell us," he said. "The answers are there in the spinal cord. All we have to do is ask the right questions."


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