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Spinal cord injury breakthrough makes paralyzed mice walk again
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.
When spinal cord injuries result in paralysis, science hasn't so far been able to provide a way to repair the damage and reverse the condition. Now a team of researchers from Germany used a designer protein to help paralyzed mice to walk again, raising hopes for a cure that can extend to humans.
The study was carried out by a team from the Department for Cell Physiology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) in Germany, led by Professor Dietmar Fischer. The scientists restored the walking ability of mice who were paralyzed in both hind legs by manipulating the supply of the protein hyper-interleukin-6 that causes nerve cells to regenerate.
"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," explained Dietmar Fischer.
The protein works by taking on a key feature of spinal cord injuries that produce disability – damage to nerve fibers known as axons that transport signals back and forth between the brain, the muscles, and the skin. When these fibers stop working, the communication ceases as well. What's more, the fibers don't grow back if severed, leaving patients paralyzed and numb, with no current treatments available.
This is why advancements in this field are so vital, underscoring the achievement of the Bochum team. The researchers used viruses to make nerve cells in the motor-sensory cortex to produce hyper-interleukin-6 on their own. The viruses injected into the brains of the paralyzed mice were specially-tailored for gene therapy, carrying blueprints for protein production to nerve cells known as motoneurons. These motoneurons used axonal side branches to transport the proteins to cells involved in movement functions like walking, explained the press release from the University. Normally these key cells are very hard to reach.
The technique succeeded and in a few weeks, the paralyzed mice began to walk.
What is a spinal cord injury?
"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," elaborated 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."
Next the team plans to investigate further regenerative effects it can achieve with hyper-Interleukin-6, while striving to understand how these advancements in treatment can be applied to humans.
Check out the study published in Nature Communications.
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Physicist Frank Wilczek proposes new methods of searching for extraterrestrial life.
- Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek thinks we are not searching for aliens correctly.
- Instead of sending out and listening for signals, he proposes two new methods of looking for extraterrestrials.
- Spotting anomalies in planet temperature and atmosphere could yield clues of alien life, says the physicist.
1. Atmosphere chemistry<p>Like we found out with our own effect on the Earth's atmosphere, making a <a href="https://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/facts/hole_SH.html" target="_blank">hole in the ozone layer</a>, the gases around a planet can be impacted by its inhabitants. "Atmospheres are especially significant in the search for alien life," <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/looking-for-signs-of-alien-technology-11581605907" target="_blank">writes Wilczek</a> "because they might be affected by biological processes, the way that photosynthesis on Earth produces nearly all of our planet's atmospheric oxygen."</p><p>But while astrobiology can provide invaluable clues, so can looking for the signs of alien technology, which can also be manifested in the atmosphere. An advanced alien civilization might be colonizing other planets, turning their atmospheres to resemble the home planets. This makes sense considering our own plans to terraform other planets like Mars to allow us to breathe there. Elon Musk even <a href="https://www.space.com/elon-musk-serious-nuke-mars-terraforming.html" target="_blank">wants to nuke the red planet.</a></p>
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2. Planet temperatures<p>Wilczek also floats another idea - what if an alien civilization created a greenhouse effect to raise the temperature of a planet? For example, if extraterrestrials were currently researching Earth, they would likely notice the increased levels of carbon dioxide that are <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases" target="_blank">heating up</a> our atmosphere. Similarly, we can looks for such signs around the exoplanets.</p><p>An advanced civilization might also be heating up planets to raise their temperatures to uncover resources and make them more habitable. Unfreezing water might be one great reason to turn up the thermostat. </p><p>Unusually high temperatures can also be caused by alien manufacturing and the use of artificial energy sources like nuclear fission or fusion, suggests the scientist. Structures like the hypothetical <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/this-mind-bending-scale-predicts-the-power-of-advanced-civilizations" target="_self">Dyson spheres</a>, which could be used to harvest energy from stars, can be particularly noticeable. </p>
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As patients approached death, many had dreams and visions of deceased loved ones.
One of the most devastating elements of the coronavirus pandemic has been the inability to personally care for loved ones who have fallen ill.
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.