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posted by janrinok on Sunday January 28 2018, @06:46AM   Printer-friendly
from the of-all-the-nerve dept.

On the hunt for genes involved in regenerating critical nerve fibers called axons, biologists at the University of California San Diego came away with a surprise: The discovery of a new genetic pathway that carries hope for victims of traumatic injuries -- from stroke to spinal cord damage.

UC San Diego Biological Sciences Assistant Project Scientist Kyung Won Kim, Professor Yishi Jin and their colleagues conducted a large-scale genetic screening in the roundworm C. elegans seeking ultimately to understand genetic influences that might limit nerve regrowth in humans. Unexpectedly, the researchers found the PIWI-interacting small RNA (piRNA) pathway -- long believed to be restricted to function in the germline -- plays an active role in neuron damage regeneration.

The discovery is published online Jan. 25, 2018 in the journal Neuron.

"This came as a total surprise," said Jin, Chair of the Section of Neurobiology, Division of Biological Sciences, and a member of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine in UC San Diego's School of Medicine. "piRNA wasn't anywhere on our radar, but now we are convinced that it is a new pathway that functions in neurons and, with some work, could offer therapeutic targets for helping neurons do better against injury."

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 28 2018, @02:40PM (1 child)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 28 2018, @02:40PM (#629457)

    Back when my mother was teaching biology in the 1970s, nerve cells didn't regenerate in adults - they replicated in the very young, then grew in size, and if they were cut, that was it: the damage was permanent.

    Then, by the 1980s: high-school science said that nerves could regrow naturally, but slowly - which was good news for the nerve I severed in my hand in 1983 (and, it did slowly recover).

    with some work, could offer therapeutic targets for helping neurons do better against injury.

    Well, guys, it's about damn time - with all the paralysis research over the last 40 years you would think that more stuff like this would have cropped up by now.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by janrinok on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:40PM

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:40PM (#629475) Journal

      I can sympathize with you on this. My wife suffers from a major medical issue which ultimately will result in her death long before a normal life expectancy. We keep seeing medical advances and potential new treatments, the discovery of which seem to be accelerating as the years go by, yet none of them will be of any use to her. But we can take some small measure of comfort for those who are being diagnosed with her condition today, because there are now significant opportunities to slow the advance of her condition that were not available when she could have benefited from them.

      The fact that this latest discovery was completely unexpected and - although it is still years away from being usefully exploited - might produce treatments that we had not imagined possible is still significant. I only hope that big pharma doesn't take this new discovery, extend it, and then lock it away behind patents and high charges for drugs that will mean that those needing treatment will be unable to receive it.

      It's always my fault...
  • (Score: 2) by The Shire on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:48PM (1 child)

    by The Shire (5824) on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:48PM (#629477)

    If you read the paper you will see that this does not represent a method of repairing damaged nerves, only the possibility of growing new dendrites at the site of the injury. It's like a network cable to your computer. If you cut the cable between your PC and your router in half you can put a new connector on one end but the new cable doesn't reach your computer anymore, it's too short, so communication isn't restored.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:57PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 28 2018, @03:57PM (#629480)

      Accelerated dendritic growth is, indeed, like splicing a cut wire - it will have a slightly reduced conduction velocity, there will be retraining time to interpret the new signal pathways, but compared to no conduction at all, a patched cut is infinitely more functional.

  • (Score: 2) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Sunday January 28 2018, @08:35PM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Sunday January 28 2018, @08:35PM (#629564) Homepage Journal

    I have a friend by the name of Foster Anderson. He has been quadriplegic as a result of a motorcycle accident when he was seventeen.

    He has some control of his arms but not of his fingers. But it turned out that was all he needed to get certified as a scuba diver: the only requirement for the disabled students was that they were capable of pinching their nose shut so they could "clear" their ears.

    Two of use able-bodied students would take one disabled student out for a drag underwater.

    He was later pictured on the cover of a surfing magazine, riding a surfboard.

    He has a van with a wheelchair lift that can be operated using only his hands but not his fingers. When we first met he commuted from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley where he worked as an engineer. On the side he designed products for disabled people such as the QuadBee, a flying disk that he could throw himself, as well as a spatula with which he could flip his own pancakes.

    He went on to write a book called "My Second Life" then later founded a school in Santa Cruz that teaches such things as rock climbing for quadriplegic people.

    Sometimes my mental illness gets me down but I get right back up when I think of Foster.

    Yes I Have No Bananas. []