Australian researchers at Manash University just might have produced the “holy grail” of immune system repair using amphibians with implications that are truly incredible.
They had taken a deeper look at the amazing ability salamanders have to re-grow limbs they had ‘dropped’, and the repercussions their findings could have should be reverberating all around the world; this should have these researchers finding the money pouring in for further studies. [see abstract]
They went public via publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a couple days ago but it wasn’t until Wednesday the internet caught up and, though there has been a small montage of blurbs saying the same thing (simple re-publishing of the study), no one has brought up the implications it could really have for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.
They could very well have found a way to repair the damage that is done to the myelin sheath.
Not all lesions found in MS patients are in the brain; some are in the spinal cord and, as awful as it is to find them in the brain, it is the ones that are in the spinal cord that concern doctors the most.
The short of it: spinal cord lesions are located in such a concentrated area and, since it is considered the “information highway” of the nervous system that helps us to walk, talk, breathe and digest food and, well, everything really; the damage can give an MS patient a whole new level of difficulties.
The researchers knew that a salamander’s immune system was crucial when it was called upon to regenerate lost limbs, reproduce brain tissue, parts of the heart and even the spinal cord and armed with this information, these amphibians were used as a starting point.
They knew all that, but they thought the macrophages, cells important to remove dead cells and cellular debris, weren’t significant to the regeneration process so the cells were removed.
When the they removed the macrophages, they found the salamanders weren’t able to regenerate a lost limb and had grown scar tissue instead, rendering the regeneration process negative.
Some salamander species use what is called automy, self-amputation, as a defense mechanism and can, within a few weeks; reform the missing piece that ‘works’ as well as the previous one and this is what didn’t happen when the macrophages were removed.
Dr. James Godwin, the lead investigator, said, “Now, we need to find out exactly how these macrophages are contributing to regeneration. Down the road, this could lead to therapies that tweak the human immune system down a more regenerative pathway.”
They reintroduced the macrophages and the salamanders were able to then start the regenerative processes again and this exciting find has them all seeing how the next step would be turning “up the volume” and reverse-engineer this for human therapies.
For those with the more aggressive types of MS, this could mean the difference between life and death since doctors will say those who have lesions predominately in the spinal cord are associated with high disability and mortality rates, so it can’t be stressed enough how important this treasure is for ‘just’ those with MS.
Only 10% to 20% of MS patients have Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS) and an even smaller 5% have Progressive Relapsing (PRMS) and as a consequence, there really aren’t any viable therapies for those who have them.
There is a reason finding a way to repair spinal cord injuries is called the “holy grail” and this would be one of many.
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Sources: University, Monash. “The Secret Of Regeneration May Be Revealed By Salamander Research.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 22 May. 2013. Web.
23 May. 2013. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/260798.php; http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/multiple-sclerosis-understanding-the-differences-in-ms; http://www.healthcentral.com/multiple-sclerosis/c/question/996923/54172