New life for nerves forgotten

Preliminary studies reveal that a particular group of compounds could go a long way in regenerating nerves damaged by diseases such as multiple sclerosis

Published: Thursday 15 August 1996

for the millions who have been condemned to life on a wheelchair after having met with an accident and damaging their nerves and for those suffering from multiple sclerosis, there is now a ray of hope. Scientists have found that certain drugs could come handy in curing multiple sclerosis or other kinds of nerve damages.

Researchers working in the laboratories of Guilford Pharmaceuticals, of Baltimore, Maryland, us, have successfully regenerated severely damaged nerve tissue in rats. They used a group of compounds called neuroimmunophilin ligands (nils) to achieve the same. According to the vice president of the company's research wing, Peter Suzdak, even a disease like Parkinson's could be treated with the help of these compounds. They are capable of stopping the degeneration of nerve cells and promoting the regeneration of nerve tissue.

The scientists found that rats with badly crushed sciatic nerves -- the large nerves that run down each leg -- showed a 50 per cent decrease in the number of axons (the nerve fibres that carry an impulse away from the cells) and a 90 per cent drop in the amount of myelin sheath (the fatty cover around axons that helps in the fast conduction of nerve impulses). Results revealed that the use of a new chemical called gpi 1,005 (a nil), helped regenerate upto 95 per cent of the number of axons lost and perk up the rate of myelination by 50 per cent. And, these were the results obtained from the use of low concentrations of the chemical.

The chemical can, however, be used only as a cure and not as a preventive measure which implies that it cannot be administered in advance. This is mainly because the onset of neurological disorders cannot be predicted in humans. For instance, Parkinson's disease claims upto 70 per cent of the dopaminergic neurons before any symptoms appear.

A class of immunosuppressant drugs like cyclosporin a, fk506 and rapamycin are already known to stimulate the growth of nerves damaged by facial injuries. But these drugs, which have been in use to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs, could produce some side-effects too. They can cause a lot of damage to the immune system and therefore cannot be used for the long-term treatment of neurological problems. According to Suzdak, nils work in much the same manner as cyclosporin a and fk506, but they are more effective because they work without damaging the immune system. But Joseph Coyle of Harvard University, is more cautious about the benefits of nils. "It is a little too early to say much about their side-effects," he says.

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