Investigators designed a combination therapy and tested it on rats with spinal cord contusions -- the most common cause of paralysis in humans. The combination therapy consisted of transplanted Schwann cells, which is a type of cell that insulates nerve cells, a cell messenger molecule called cyclic AMP, and the antidepressant Rolipram.
Following a spinal cord injury, the body typically does not provide a proper environment for nerve regeneration. However, with the new combination, nerve cells actually reconnected, so healing of the damaged nerve fibers was possible.
For the study researchers injected rats with Rolipram prior to transplanting Schwann cells to preserve cyclic AMP. Cyclic AMP helps enable the growth of nerve fibers that send signals up and down the spinal cord and central nervous system. The rats also received injections of cyclic AMP to promote the growth of nerve fibers past the injury site and into the spinal cord.
Specialists say this research will open up new possibilities for treating patients with spinal cord injuries and they say that more studies are needed to confirm their findings before the treatment is tested in humans.