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Blocking a protein could be key to treating spinal cord injuries

Sydney: Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), and the University of Melbourne have shown that blocking protein EphA4 could rapidly restore the balance and limb coordination of models with spinal injuries. The study appears in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Perry Bartlett

QBI director and study co-leader, Perry Bartlett says the research confirmed and expanded on previous studies showing that blocking the action of this protein receptor prevented the loss of nerve tissue following injury and promoted repair.

Bartlett and QIMR professor Andrew Boyd identified the role of EphA4 in 1998.

They showed that the EphA4 protein was critical to the development of the nerves, which control walking and other complex muscle functions.

Subsequent studies showed that after a spinal cord injury, the production of the EphA4 protein was increased and this protein acted to stop severed nerve endings from regrowing through the injury site.

Boyd’s laboratory at QIMR, working with Bartlett’s lab at UQ (University of Queensland), then developed a “decoy” protein, to block, or inhibit EphA4 function.

This has been used to improve recovery of function after spinal cord injury in animals.

“That first discovery back in 1998 opened up a clear path to a potential treatment for any diseases or injuries involving motor nerves,” Boyd says.

“The idea would be to use the ‘decoy’ treatment immediately after spinal cord injury to try to improve the patient’s recovery.

“And as a neurologist or neurosurgeon will tell you, if you could improve function even marginally for a quadriplegic, you could make a massive difference to their life.”

The Chair of SpinalCure Australia Joanna Knott, says, “This news is extremely encouraging in the spinal cord injury field and we have followed the discoveries of the EphA4 receptor with interest. This team of researchers will certainly put Australia on the map especially when the clinical trial begins.”

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