Blocking the production of a protein called RhoA could help minimize nerve damage in spinal cord injuries, promote tissue healing and also lower pain, say scientists with the Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
It is the RhoA protein that blocks regeneration of nerve cells that carry signals along the spinal cord and prevents the injured tissue from healing. Usually after a spinal cord injury there is an increased production of the protein.
The increased production of RhoA could also result in what is called phantom pain. It is pain that feels like it's coming from a body part that's no longer there. Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain.
While phantom pain occurs most often in people who've had an arm or leg removed, the disorder may also occur after surgeries to remove other body parts, such as the breast, penis, eye or tongue.
For some people, phantom pain gets better over time without treatment. For others, managing phantom pain can be challenging.
Now researchers at the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience and Quark Pharmaceuticals Inc. have developed a chemically synthesized siRNA molecule that decreases the production of the RhoA protein when administered to the spine and allows regeneration of the nerve cells.
"It is exciting because this minimally-invasive treatment can selectively target the injured tissue and thereby promote healing and reduce pain," says Martin Grumet, associate director of the Keck Center and senior author of a recent study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
When they injected siRNA into the spinal cords of laboratory rats with spinal cord injury using a procedure similar to a spinal tap, there was an overall improvement in tissue healing and recovery.
More than 250,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury and currently there is no way to reverse the damage. No drugs for early treatment of spinal cord injury have been approved in over a decade. Based on this joint research, Quark Pharmaceuticals, Inc now has a drug development program for the treatment of spinal cord injury and neuropathic pain. This new research is supported by grants from the New Jersey Commission for Spinal Cord Research and Quark.