Study reveals potential for new treatment of paralysis and brain disease

07/17/05

Findings could affect those with spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, ALS, Parkinson's disease and other debilitating illnesses

Helsinki, Finland, July 25, 2005 – A study released today could reveal the key to treating nearly 140 million people worldwide who suffer from spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, ALS and other devastating neurological diseases.

The study, published in the online version of the Journal of Neuroscience Research, shows how a protein called KDI tri-peptide (KDI) can block the harmful effects of a substance called glutamate that is present in all degenerative brain diseases and spinal cord injuries, causing permanent cell death and preventing the repair of damaged nerve connections. Glutamate is produced as part of the body's natural reaction to central nervous system damage.

In the new study, researchers at the Brain Laboratory at the University of Helsinki (www.brainlab.fi) and at the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr., Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla., show KDI to be a potent and wide-ranging blocker of glutamate's damaging chemical processes. It therefore has a tremendous ability to protect the brain and spinal cord from cell death and even enable regrowth.

Human clinical trials are expected to begin as soon as next year. No toxic side effects have been seen in studies so far, and the Finnish researchers do not expect any since KDI occurs naturally in the human body, including in the central nervous system. An added advantage is that KDI can be easily synthesised, therefore avoiding the problems associated with human cell donation.

Paralysis reversal in rats offered clues to wide-ranging applications

The new findings follow from previous studies in which KDI, when injected into the spines of paralyzed rats, produced dramatic results. The rats were able to bear weight and walk again after only 3 months. Further laboratory experiments showed that KDI also had the ability to promote regrowth of nerves in damaged areas and to prevent brain cell death. These results paved the way for new research with human cells.

In the new study, Dr. Päivi Liesi, M.D., Ph.D., and her research team applied KDI to human brain cells in the laboratory to see if KDI's extraordinary ability to prevent nerve cell death and promote regeneration could be connected to its unexpected effect on the glutamate system. The study concludes that KDI is able to block various forms of glutamate function – leading researchers to believe that it may have wide-ranging applications.

"The wider significance of this research is that KDI treatment may become the first natural and targeted therapy for people with central nervous system injuries resulting in paralysis and a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's and ALS, for which there are currently no cures," said Dr. Liesi, head of the Brain Laboratory and a former visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health.

New approach could fast-track to real results

Dr. Liesi's long-term focused research has built upon an original discovery by George Martin, Ph.D., former scientific director for the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Martin first discovered the molecule known as laminin that KDI is derived from. Dr. Liesi identified laminin's role in the nervous system and was able to isolate KDI from the larger molecule. After intensive study of its effects in the central nervous system, she began to recognise KDI's enormous therapeutic potential.

"One of the wonderful things about this is that Dr. Liesi's discoveries are ready now for prime-time testing in patients. We do not have to go through a long drug development procedure that might take 10 years," said Dr. Martin. "This represents a new approach and one with considerable promise, particularly because it could be applied and tested rapidly with a variety of disorders. The ability to treat degenerative brain diseases and spinal cord injuries with a substance that naturally occurs in the body is revolutionary."

"I am excited by the potential clinical uses of KDI and by the prospect of clinical testing," said Dr. Victor Krauthamer, Ph.D., a former research collaborator of Dr. Liesi, speaking as an independent scientist. Dr. Krauthamer also is a research scientist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "If these results play out in further trials, and there is a true treatment for a variety of currently untreatable neurological diseases, this could be one of the greatest discoveries in treating neurological conditions in the last 50 years."

Dr. Liesi conducts her current research in close collaboration with the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr., Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla. The Byrd Institute is dedicated to helping and coordinating research, as well as building national and international collaborations. The goal of this productive international collaboration is to transform research results into practical clinical applications as quickly as possible, delaying the disease's onset, and ultimately slowing or even halting the disease's progression. Visit http://www.floridaalz.org for more details about the Byrd Institute's ongoing efforts.

Details of Dr. Liesi's research and further information can be found at http://www.brainlab.fi, a site affiliated with the University of Helsinki. The University is one of the centers of excellence among universities in Europe, concentrating on high-level scientific research and researcher education. The results produced through the research and teaching carried out at the University are widely acclaimed worldwide.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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