Clinical trial promise for spinal cord injury protein blocker research

Queensland scientists have advanced a potential new treatment for spinal cord injury with a view to starting clinical trials.

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), and the University of Melbourne showed that blocking a specific protein could make a dramatic difference to the balance and limb coordination of rats with spinal injuries. QBI Director and study co-leader, Professor Perry Bartlett said the research was extremely exciting and confirms and extends the previous studies showing that blocking the action of the receptor EphA4 prevents the loss of nerve tissue following injury and promotes repair.

Professor Bartlett and QIMR Professor Andrew Boyd first 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. Professor Boyd’s laboratory at QIMR, working with Professor Bartlett’s lab at UQ, 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,” Professor Boyd said. “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 person with a serious spinal injury, you could make a massive difference to their life.”

SpinalCure Australia’s Joanna Knott, Chair said, “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.”

The paper can be viewed in the online edition of Journal of Neurotrauma at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/neu.2012.2729.

This research was supported by funding from the Lisa Palmer Spinal Research Consortium and SpinalCure Australia.

SpinalCure Australia is the not-for-profit research organization dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injury. There are approximately 15,000 men and women living with paralysis caused by spinal injury in Australia. The average age for injury is 19 years, with approx 53 per cent of injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents; 23 per cent from falls; and 12 per cent from sports. One injury of this type occurs every day in Australia.


Media: Mikaeli Costello, Advancement and Communications Manager, Queensland Brain Institute, +61 401 580 685 or [email protected] Or Duncan Wallace, CEO SpinalCure +61 459 359 180 or Joanna Knott, Chair, SpinalCure +61 413 995 992.

Clinical trial promise for spinal cord injury protein blocker research