Absence of nerve regeneration in injured nerve fibres in the mature central nervous system has always baffled scientists and researchers worldwide, but researchers at Children's Hospital Boston have discovered a naturally occurring growth factor Oncomodulin which could well be an answer to nerve damage diseases like glaucoma, tumors, trauma, spinal cord injury and even stroke.
Yuqin yin,MD, PhD and Larry Benowitz, PhD neuroscientists on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, have done studies on optic nerve, which connects retinal nerve cells to the brain,and is frequently used as a model in nerve regeneration studies.
In the studies on live rats with optic nerve injury on adding oncomodulin with other growth promoting factors the axon growth doubled. In another experiment oncomodulin was mixed with a sugar mannose and forskolin which helps the cell receptors to become sensitised to protein messengers and this combination was more potent than ciliary neurotrophic factor CNTF in the same conditions.
Oncomodulin has been known to scientists for more than two decades to be present in tumor cells and placenta before the pathbreaking discovery in the axons of the nerve cells in the eye.
The theory behind the discovery of oncomodulin is: On injury to the eye an inflammatory reaction occurred which stimulated macrophages which are immune cells to move into the axons and release an unidentified protein which causes nerve regeneration. But for oncomdulin to work it requires an agent which should increase cyclic AMP which initiates various cellular reactions and helps make the oncomodulin receptor available on the cell surface.
There is also a two pronged approach as put forth by Benowitz and postdoctoral fellow Dietmar Fischer, PhD in which natural inhibitors of axon growth are suppressed and growth factors are activated and thus this approach could give incredible results.
The use of oncomodulin on humans is still in its infantile state but its discovery has embarked us on a hope filled journey to treat disabling and untreatable diseases like glaucoma and spinal cord injury.