Drug could stop spinal injuries, researchers say

* Company foresees two-drug IV in ambulance

* Also hopes to target stroke and brain injury

* Mechanism works in mice, rats and humans

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, April 21 (BestGrowthStock) – Shutting off a single gene
can help stop the cascade of damage that can paralyze people
with spinal cord injuries, U.S. researchers reported on
Wednesday.

They propose using a common, generic diabetes drug in
combination with a gene-silencing technique to stop spine
injuries from getting any worse, and believe the approach may
also work in people with stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

Their experiment, published in the journal Science
Translational Medicine, shows it is possible to stop the
bleeding that can cause the damage from an injured spinal cord
to spread and worsen.

“What we’re doing is preventing bleeding from occurring,”
said Marc Simard of the University of Maryland, which has
licensed the technology to a company Simard works with called
Remedy Pharmaceuticals.

When the spinal cord or brain is injured, the capillaries
can burst, bringing in an overwhelming wave of chemicals called
inflammatory factors that are meant to heal but that often
worsen the damage. This is why stroke patients do not always
show immediate symptoms but can worsen in the hours
afterwards.

Simard’s team demonstrated that a gene called ABCC8 starts
this process. It controls a molecule called the sulfonylurea
receptor 1 or SUR1.

“It gets activated after an injury like ischemia (when
blood vessels are blocked) or trauma,” Simard said.

Simard’s team blocked this gene in mice and rats using
gene-blocking therapy called antisense and showed that after a
spinal cord injury, the damage and effects were much less
without ABCC8.

They also tested the spinal cords of seven patients who
died within five days of a spinal cord injury and showed the
same gene was active. The next step is to try this approach in
people, said Simard.

“I think we are pretty darn close to a clinical trial,” he
said in a telephone interview.

EASY TO MAKE

The antisense drugs are easy to make, he said. And the
common diabetes drug glyburide blocks the destructive SUR1
protein made by the gene.

Remedy Pharmaceuticals is working to make an infused
version of both drugs that could work together to block the
gene and block the protein that the gene makes.

Glyburide is already in Phase I safety trials for treating
traumatic brain injury and stroke, Simard said.

“My hope is eventually you could get it into the
ambulance,” Simard added. He hopes there will be no
side-effects from giving the drug, even to lightly injured
people, so that ambulance workers could give an immediate
infusion to anyone with apparent brain or spinal cord damage to
stop the deadly cascade of damage.

The potential market is large. “Worldwide, the incidence of
spinal cord injury ranges from 10 to 83 per million people per
year,” Simard’s team wrote.

Many teams are looking for ways to prevent the early damage
that makes brain and spinal cord injuries so devastating.

A team has engineered an enzyme that can gobble up scar
tissue formed after spinal cord injuries, and is working with
Acorda Therapeutics (ACOR.O: ) to develop it. [ID:nN02267087]

Another team found last year that injecting tiny polymer
spheres into rats right after spine injuries helped the animals
recover movement and prevented secondary nerve damage.
[nN08237917]

Yet another group found last year that a common and safe
blue food dye might block inflammation. [ID:nN27549792]

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(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Drug could stop spinal injuries, researchers say