A local researcher has advanced the search for cures for Central Nervous System injuries by using a naturally occurring substance produced in the body to eliminate scar formation and promote nerve Regeneration.
“It’s major,” says Stephen Davies, who hopes the seeds of his research one day will help patients with paralysis and head injuries.
Davies’ work with rats and the anti-scarring agent called decorin was published earlier this week in the European Journal of Neuroscience. He says decorin, administered directly to the spinal cord injury with a tiny pump, suppressed inflammation and scar formation. Decorin also provided a hospitable Environment for new nerve fibers to grow, pass through the injury site and keep growing.
Without the decorin, Davies found the scar tissue presented a physical and molecular barrier to nerve fiber growth.
“In our experiments we eliminated the formation of scars, and we were thrilled, ” said Davies, an assistant professor of neurosurgery and neurosciences at Baylor College of Medicine. “For the past 100 years, the scar has been a major obstacle. We hope this gives us a new treatment in our armory to repair the spinal cord.”
The next steps, the researcher said, are to better understand how decorin functions, to determine whether the rats recover from their spinal cord injuries, and to transfer the rat experiments to sheep. Davies says it’s important to see if he can replicate his results in large mammals, which more closely resemble human patients than rodents.
If all goes exceedingly well, Davies says he will apply for FDA approval to use decorin in patients in the next three to four years.
“We have to make sure it’s as safe as we think it is,” he says. “All of this will take time. I don’t want to give anyone false hope, but we are moving along as fast as we’re allowed to go.”
Since November, Davies has presented his findings at four neurosciences conferences. At each one, he says, he’s been surrounded by scientists wanting to hear more and offering to collaborate.
Davies said he welcomes teamwork in what can be a competitive, even cut-throat field. “We need to get as many studies published as possible,” he said. “We learn from other scientists, and they learn from us.”
Davies, his wife, Jeannette, also a neuroscientist, and three other researchers staff the Baylor lab. For three years they’ve received support from Mission Connect, the consortium of local scientists working to reverse the consequences of spinal cord and brain injuries.
“Stephen’s work in the field of spinal cord research is going to be huge,”says Claire Hulsebosch, a Mission Connect scientist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Adds Dr. Robert Grossman, professor and chairman of neurosurgery at Baylor, “Scientists all over the world are looking for ways to promote nerve regeneration. This work has to be confirmed in larger animals, but it looks very promising.”
Davies also has received support from Simon Archibald, a scientist who spent years in the field before going to work for the New Jersey company that manufactures decorin. Archibald’s company, Integra LifeSciences, donated about $200,000 of the synthesized, purified human substance that Davies used in the lab.
It was Archibald who first approached Davies about experimenting with decorin. Both men hoped decorin was the key to suppressing scars, and they were elated when that proved to be true.
By CLAUDIA FELDMAN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle