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Ohio State spinal injury research could promote recovery

People with spinal cord injuries have reason to be more optimistic about recovery after the recent publication of new findings from an Ohio State professor.
The experimental drug LM11A-31 was developed by Sung Ok Yoon, an associate professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at OSU, along with co-author Frank Longo, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University.
This is the first oral drug to improve functional movement in rodents after a spinal cord injury without any additional means of therapy, such as an invasive procedure, Yoon said.
“Often invasive measures are used to treat spinal cord injuries, like drilling a hole in the brain to deliver the drug. Our goal was to find non-invasive therapy that could be taken orally or simply injected into the arm,” Yoon said.  
A protein called p75 is linked to the death of specialized cells following a spinal cord injury. Yoon and Longo’s developmental drug targets this protein to prevent degeneration, Yoon said.
Throughout the study, Yoon and her fellow researchers administered three different doses of the drug as well as a placebo to mice about four hours after injury. They continued this treatment twice a day for 42 days.
During this time, researchers analyzed the effects of the drug on the mice in two different aspects.
“One was a weight-bearing open field test … where we looked at their hind-limb movement,” Yoon said. “Secondly, we chose to do a non-weight-bearing test in a swim tank … where we could look at their front paw and hind-limb coordination.”
In both tests, Yoon and her colleagues found that the treatment promoted recovery. Additionally, while spinal cord injuries often cause extreme, long-lasting pain, Yoon said this drug did not add to that discomfort.
“This drug did not exacerbate that pain, so it didn’t increase the pain but it promoted function,” Yoon said.
Trenton Morrell, a fourth-year in linguistics, said these kinds of research studies are important at OSU.
“Cutting-edge research like this and high-end research in general tends to bring in a lot of money for the university so they can continue their mission, whether that be giving students scholarships or improving the facilities,” Morrell said. “It also shows really well for the university on a world-stage and helping make a difference shows a positive image.”
Currently, there are an estimated 1.3 million Americans living with spinal cord injuries. Their complications include paralysis, chronic pain and bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction, according to the press release.
Samantha Burrell, a second-year in environmental science, said although she’s not personally affected by studies like Yoon’s, she is proud to go to a school where such research takes place.
“Research at Ohio State enables a lot of intelligent people to come together and share their ideas … and it’s cool to be part of something that does include groundbreaking research,” Burrell said.
Yoon, whose research was published in the Jan. 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, said that while she hopes the drug can be developed for humans in the future, she believes it is a long way away.
“We will do some follow-up studies, but humans are a whole different ball game,” Yoon said.

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