Breakthrough Drug Discovery Could Let Scientists Repair Nerve Damage


IN BRIEF
  • A drug already in use to treat chronic diseases like Multiple Sclerosis has been discovered to also effectively restore nerve function.
  • The Department of Defense also has shown confidence in the drug by giving a million dollars to help fund research.

NEW BENEFITS

A new study led by the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that a currently available drug may have properties that allow it to be used for the treatment of traumatic nerve injuries sustained in car accidents, sports injuries, or in combat.

The study looks at 4-aminopyridine (4AP), a drug currently used for multiple sclerosis. It has been studied for 30 years for use in treatment of chronic diseases, but also shows signs that it may also be used for acute nerve injury and that its benefits remain even after the treatment has stopped.

The researchers found that the drug helps in the repair of myelin. It is the fatty substance that coats nerve fibers and speeds along electrical communication between neurons. Traumatic nerve injuries remove or damage the myelin, attributing to the nerve damage. When 4AP is taken daily, they found that myelin damage is repaired and nerve function returns.

 Journal of Neuroscience
Image credit: Desmazieres, et al. Journal of Neuroscience, 2014

They demonstrated this in mice. One dose to a mouse that suffered a nerve crushing injury had better motor function within the hour. This shows that 4AP could even be used immediately after an incident.

EASIER ROUTES

The potential use for combat soldiers has attracted the military to the study. To that end, the Department of Defense granted $1 million to continue the research for three years.

Since theses benefits come from an already established drug, there is greater cause for excitment. It already has a safety record, so it is likely to have a faster time sailing through the authorities. Trial proposals have already been approved by the FDA, and we may start seeing participant recruitment soon.

“As 4AP has been well-studied in chronic injuries, and is approved for treating multiple sclerosis, the new benefits we discovered can be explored rapidly and much more cheaply than is needed for developing an entirely new drug,” says study author Mark Noble, Ph.D.

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