Do bacteria hold the key to preventing paralysis?

Do bacteria hold the key to preventing paralysis?


By Nell Boyce MICE paralysed by a spinal cord injury can walk again if they are quickly given a drug that blocks the growth of new blood vessels. The drug, CM101, is a polysaccharide made by streptococcus bacteria. It has shown promise in clinical trials as an anticancer agent that cuts off the blood supply to tumours. Carl Hellerqvist and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, wondered if inhibiting blood vessel growth in damaged spinal cords might prevent scar tissue forming and allow regeneration of neurons. The researchers injured the spinal cords of 26 mice and gave them an intravenous injection of CM101 one hour later. Fourteen other injured mice had no medication. Six of these mice died within a day, and none regained any mobility in their paralysed limbs. But the mice treated with CM101 fared better. All but one survived for at least 28 days after surgery, and 24 of them recovered the ability to walk within 2 to 12 days, the team reports in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol 95, p 13 188). “We’re cautiously optimistic,” says Hellerqvist. He adds that a company called CarboMed in Brentwood, Tennessee, hopes to try out the drug for spinal injury in clinical trials next year. James Guest, a neurosurgeon at the Barrow Neurologic Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, calls the observations “extremely encouraging”. However, he can’t explain why many of the untreated mice died, and would like to see the experiment repeated in an independent lab. “There’s a number of things that don’t quite make sense,” he says. “However,
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