Towards translation capacity building initiative grant awarded

Release date: 14-Aug-2013

Organisation: The Spinal Cord Injury Network, Sydney, NSW

The Spinal Cord Injury Network is pleased to announce Dr Gila Moalem-Taylor based at the School of Medicine, University of New South Wales, has been awarded the Network’s “Towards Translation Capacity Building Initiative” Grant. Funding of $320,000 will support Dr Moalem-Taylor’s new collaborative project “Modulation of gap junction channels for the treatment of spinal cord injury.”

Dr Moalem-Taylor’s research is part of a trans-Tasman collaboration between Australian researchers (Dr Moalem-Taylor and Dr Catherine Gorrie) and New Zealand researchers; Professors Green and Nicholson, and Dr O’Carroll, from The University of Auckland. The study brings together experts in spinal cord injury, neuropathic pain, gap junction modulation and neurodegenerative disease. The project will complete preclinical research and provide the platform for clinical trials aimed at reducing chronic pain and improving functional outcomes after spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injury is a major cause of morbidity and leads to significant physical, emotional and financial burdens for people with spinal cord injury and their families. There is no known cure to date and current treatment options are limited. After initial traumatic spinal cord injury, a cascade of secondary tissue damage starts within hours, worsening the outcome for patients. The time course of secondary damage does however offer a potential window of opportunity for intervention. Therefore, there is a great need to develop new treatments that can be used in this early time period, before the extensive spread of damage to adjacent healthy tissue occurs.

The group’s pioneering work has already shown treatment with a compound called Peptide5 can limit the spread of spinal cord damage when administered locally. The aim now is to modify this treatment for intravenous delivery in the first hours after an injury to provide a clinically relevant therapeutic approach. The ongoing spread of the lesion following spinal cord injury is mediated by dead or dying cells releasing neurotoxins that act on healthy cells causing them to die. This is facilitated in part through communication channels between cells, allowing small molecules to pass from cell to cell. Connexin43 is an important protein comprising these channels. The group has developed Peptide5, which can bind to Connexin43 and stop channels opening. When Peptide5 is delivered directly to the surface of a spinal cord injury in an animal model, it reduces cell death, injury area, swelling, inflammation and scarring, and improves locomotor function.

However, it is often impractical to apply topical medication to a damaged spinal cord after injury. Dr Moalem-Taylor’s project proposes to investigate intravenous delivery of Peptide5 as a clinically relevant treatment. Her research in spinal cord injured animals hopes to optimise the administration of Peptide5 to the blood stream, test the effects of Peptide5 treatment on inflammation, swelling and damage spread, functional outcomes, development of chronic pain, and generate dose response information and administration protocols.

The expected outcome of this collaborative research is to provide the basis for translation to a safe, effective and feasible treatment for the acute stage of human spinal cord injury. The researchers’ approach is aimed at reducing the extent of spinal cord injury damage immediately after an accident, therefore restricting the amount of functional disability. Such improvements could have a marked impact on quality of life for people following a spinal cord injury.

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