SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have identified a nematode worm gene that can be over-activated to speed damaged nerve cell regeneration.
The University of Utah researchers said their discovery is a step toward new treatments for nerves injured by trauma or disease.
"We discovered a molecular target for a future drug that could vastly improve the ability of a neuron to regenerate after injury," either from trauma or disease, said Professor Michael Bastiani, who led the study.
Co-author, Professor Erik Jorgensen, scientific director of the university's Brain Institute, added: "In the future, we would like to develop drugs that could activate this chain of molecular events in nerve cells and stimulate regeneration of diseased and injured nerve cells. At this point, we can't do that. But this study gives us hope that in the future, we will have a rational approach for stimulating regeneration."
Bastiani said the findings might also one day lead to a treatment for multiple sclerosis, in which nerves are damaged by the loss of their myelin coating.
The study that included Paola Nix, Marc Hammarlund and Linda Hauth appears in Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.