We all could use some good news, and this is quite extraordinary.
“Using gene therapy, a research team has succeeded in getting mice to walk again after a complete cross-sectional injury. The nerve cells produced the curative protein themselves.”
Normally spinal cord damage is pretty much permanent. Even though we all still have the same genes that built the nerves in the first place, no one seemed to have the right reboot code that could switch on the correct genes in the right order to do the repair. And to give you some idea of the complexity of this, in 2018 a different team estimated that as many as 580 genes may be involved in axon regeneration.
Plenty of researchers have been tapping on the windows and doors of the Nerve Regrowth Holy Grail. This time, instead of just regenerating a nerve in a petri dish, or even even a live animal, they’ve gone a leap further. These mice could walk again.
And all it took was a single injection? “This was a great surprise to the researchers”.
The magic molecule this time was Interleukin 6 (IL-6). It’s a kind of command molecule in the immune system. It foils easy descriptions — it’s anti-inflammatory and produced after exercise, but it’s also higher after stress, eating too much, not sleeping enough, and in obese people. If you are sick or damaged, IL6 seems to rise.
This team made an artificial version of IL-6 and attached it to a virus. This is a form of Gene therapy. What we don’t know is whether it works in humans, how long the repair lasts, or what the side effects would be. Does it work on old injuries or only new ones?
We also don’t know why governments are pouring billions of dollars into wind and solar farms in an attempt to control the weather. Twenty years from now, the nations that research medicine and figure it out will be wildly rich. Those that have high electricity costs and nothing to sell, but their moral superiority, will be hoping the former nations will be nice to them.
Designer cytokine makes paralyzed mice walk again
or potential therapeutic approaches, the Bochum team has been working with the protein hyper-interleukin-6. “This is a so-called designer cytokine, which means it doesn’t occur like this in nature and has to be produced using genetic engineering,” explains Dietmar Fischer. His research group already demonstrated in a previous study that hIL-6 can efficiently stimulate the regeneration of nerve cells in the visual system.
This all sounds good but we are (probably) pretty happy if we don’t need to try this just yet:
In their current study, the Bochum team induced nerve cells of the motor-sensory cortex to produce hyper-Interleukin-6 themselves. For this purpose, they used viruses suitable for gene therapy, which they injected into an easily accessible brain area. There, the viruses deliver the blueprint for the production of the protein to specific nerve cells, so-called motoneurons. Since these cells are also linked via axonal side branches to other nerve cells in other brain areas that are important for movement processes such as walking, the hyper-interleukin-6 was also transported directly to these otherwise difficult-to-access essential nerve cells and released there in a controlled manner.
Applied in one area, effective in several areas
“Thus, gene therapy treatment of only a few nerve cells stimulated the axonal regeneration of various nerve cells in the brain and several motor tracts in the spinal cord simultaneously,” points out Dietmar Fischer. “Ultimately, this enabled the previously paralyzed animals that received this treatment to start walking after two to three weeks. This came as a great surprise to us at the beginning, as it had never been shown to be possible before after full paraplegia.”
The research team is now investigating to what extent this or similar approaches can be combined with other measures to optimize the administration of hyper-Interleukin-6 further and achieve additional functional improvements. They are also exploring whether hyper-interleukin-6 still has positive effects in mice, even if the injury occurred several weeks previously. “This aspect would be particularly relevant for application in humans,” stresses Fischer. “We are now breaking new scientific ground. These further experiments will show, among other things, whether it will be possible to transfer these new approaches to humans in the future.”
The German Research Foundation funded the study.
As an aside, Covid appears to raise IL6 in lung tissue, which is not such a good thing when inflammation is running amok, and researchers are trying various anti-IL6 drugs to see if that helps. Though, of course, if there are cheap out-of -patent drugs that do, we won’t expect to see Anthony Fauci telling us to use them.
Marco Leibinger et al. Transneuronal delivery of hyper-interleukin-6 enables functional recovery after severe spinal cord injury in mice, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20112-4