BALTIMORE, June 14 (UPI) -- U.S. medical scientists at Johns Hopkins University have discovered an enzyme that helps nerve regrowth in damaged spinal cord nerves.
Researchers at the university's school of medicine said once damaged, nerves in the spinal cord normally cannot grow back and the only drug approved for treating these injuries does not enable nerve regrowth.
But in their study, the scientists discovered treating injured rat spinal cords with the enzyme sialidase not only improved nerve regrowth, it also aided motor recovery and nervous system function.
"This is the first functional study showing behavioral improvement below a spinal cord injury by the delivery of sialidase," says Professor Ronald Schnaar, who led the study. "Sialidase has properties that are appealing from the human drug development point of view."
Sialidase is a bacterial enzyme that removes specific chemical groups found on the surface of nerve cells, the researchers said.
"The positive is that we have shown functional recovery in a relevant animal model of spinal cord injury," says Schnaar. "That being said, we haven't done full toxicity studies on these rats, which definitely needs to be done before we think about taking the long road into using this as a drug in people; efficacy in animals also doesn't necessarily translate to humans."
The study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, prior to print.