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Dr. Oswald Steward at Reeve-Irvine Research Center
Dr. Steward's lab is notable becaue they have achieved robust regeneration of the corticospinal cord axons in mice. This is an especially notable accomplishment because the corticospinal tract (CST) had previously been the most difficult part of the spinal cord to regenerate. This had been frustrating for researchers because the CST is the most important part of the cord to regenerate because these particular axons control volunatary movement of the lower limbs.
How were they able to accomplish this? The researchers were able to turn off an enzyme that suppresses nerve regeneration. This molecule is called pTEN and has generated a lot of interest in cancer research as a means to stop runaway cell growth. In nerve generation, by turning off pTEN, the opposite effect was obtained--nerve cell growth was encouraged. First researchers at Harvard University (Zhigang He) proved that optic nerves could be regenerated by blocking pTEN. Then in colloboration with Dr. Stewards lab at the Reeve-Irvine Research center, corticospinal tract regeneration was achieved in mice using a similar technique. The paper describing the teams findings was published in Nature Neuroscience in September 2010.
Coverage of this breakthrough in the media:
- Neurology Today, a
publication of the American Academy of Neurology: 'Massive'
Spinal Axon Regrowth Follows Gene Deletion: A Major Advance
for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
- BBC: Spinal cord regeneration success in mice
- Scientific American: Mice movement neurons regenerated after spinal cord injury
- Orange County Register: Breakthrough: reconnecting spinal nerves
- PhysOrg.com: In breakthrough, nerve connections are regenerated after spinal cord injury