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Spine injury breakthrough

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Scientists funded by Masterton’s CatWalk Trust have developed a breakthrough gel that has the potential to improve healing in spinal cord damage repair.

“This is hug we’re very excited the money we spent is looking like it’s going to be extremely beneficial we’re buzzing,” trust founder Catriona Williams said.

A former international equestrian representative, Mrs Williams founded the CatWalk Trust in 2005 after a fall from a horse in 2002 left her a C6-7 tetraplegic. The group funds research looking for a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Using $35,000 of funding from the trust, neuroscientists Simon O’Carroll and Louise Nicholson and cell biologist Colin Green at the University of Auckland alongside collaborators at University College London have discovered that preventing cells from talking to one another for a short period after injury can stop damage spreading while reducing inflammation and subsequent scar tissue formation.

“Colin said to me he was so excited about this breakthrough that he couldn’t sleep at night, and that’s how we feel too,” Mrs Williams said.

The research trio were at Cat Walk’s Masterton HQ on Thursday presenting the culmination of two years of research to a gathering that included trust patrons Sir Brian Lochore and Aaron Slight.

Dr O’Carroll said the team have developed a gel that can be placed onto wounds to improve healing and Functional outcomes and are now developing methods for targeted delivery that can be applied via the bloodstream or to the spinal column after spinal cord injury.

In parallel, the gel is being developed for spinal cord repair strategies to overcome surgical constraints and, to move the research forward, the team are working with the University of New South Wales, Sydney, he said.

“When a spinal cord is damaged, the Lesion continues to spread during the next 24 hours,” Dr O’Carroll said.

“Swelling within the confined space of the spinal column exacerbates the injury and the accompanying inflammation leads to a scar that poses a physical barrier to Regeneration of nerve axons.

“Although a number of promising strategies have been developed to repair spinal cord injury, a major constraint to all of these approaches is that the intervention itself which creates a new lesion leading to subsequent injury spread and further scar formation impeding the repair process.

He said preliminary data supports the contention that a completely new approach to spinal cord repair is possible by regulating the communication channels that are themselves increased in number at the time of injury  the Auckland laboratory has developed unique and specific methods to down regulate these channels expressed after injury.

“Limiting lesion spread, swelling, inflammation and scarring can significantly improve the outcome of spinal injury and tissue repair strategies” Dr O’Carroll said.

Over the next 12 months the Auckland and Sydney teams will continue proof of concept studies for the systemic delivery protocol and repair strategies and hope to work together with the CatWalk Trust to drive these therapies more rapidly towards clinical application.

By Matt Stewart

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