Scientific Breakthroughs

Research Shows Nerve Damage Repair Drugs Approved For Multiple Sclerosis Can `Wake Up’ Injured Nerves

Research Shows Nerve Damage Repair Drugs Approved For Multiple Sclerosis Can `Wake Up' Injured Nerves
PHOTOGRAPH: Radosław Drożdżewski (Zwiadowca21) | Photo shows 4-aminopyridine in the form of capsules for swallowing.

Traumatic nerve injuries resulting from car accidents, combat, sports or some other nerve-crushing injury can be torturous. The good news is that researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center  have identified a new means of enhancing the body’s ability to repair damaged nerve cells.

The researchers, led by authors Dr. John Elfar and Mark Noble, Ph.d, with other laboratory team members, uncovered that 4-aminopyridine (4AP), a drug currently used to treat patients with the disabling disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis, has the unexpected property of  improving recovery from acute nerve damage. They uncovered that daily treatment with 4AP promotes repair of myelin, the insulating material that coats nerve fibers.

Record of Firsts For An Established Drug

It is the first time 4AP’s benefit in treating acute nerve injury has been exhibited, and the first time those benefits were shown to persist after treatment stoppage. The study findings were published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.

The drug has been studied for over 30 years for its ability to treat chronic diseases. Trial proposals have  been approved by the FDA.

Among those who stand to benefit from the drug therapy are traumatically injured combat soldiers.  The study has therefore drawn the attention of the military — the Department of Defense granted $1 million to carry on with the research for three years.

An Alternative to Conventional Treatment

Penetrating trauma to the nerves may cause immediate loss of functioning, in terms of muscle and sensation, and do not return unless surgically repaired.  For traumatic peripheral nerve injury, the current standard care is watchful waiting to ascertain whether a nerve has the ability to spontaneously recover, or if it will require surgery.

The research conducted by Dr. Elfar and Noble, along with Kuang-Ching Tseng, Ph.D., former graduate student in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s  Center for Musculoskeletal Research and first author of the study, showed an interesting finding. Treating mice with a single dose of 4AP one day after nerve crush injury improved muscle function within an hour.

Further studies are required to determine effectivity on humans. The researchers are quite optimistic the new benefits discovered can be explored quickly, offering a more cost-effective solution vis-a-vis development of  an entirely new drug.

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