Hard part: finding the money to push the research further
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology believe they’ve made a breakthrough that could help people with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Now comes the hard part: finding the money to push the research further.
Paul Patterson, the Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences at Caltech, and post-doctoral student Benjamin Deverman this month published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience describing their work with neurons damaged by disease. The scientists developed a gene therapy that stimulates production of specialized cells that manufacture neuron-protecting material. In essence, the therapy helps damaged cells overcome their own deficiencies.
“The brain is trying to do the repair itself, but not succeeding very well,” Patterson said. “If you push it, it essentially knows what to do.”
Patterson and Deverman have conducted tests on mice, injecting a virus into the brain that stimulates the cells to constructive action. Patterson said he expects that in the coming months Deverman will take the lead in identifying ways to better control the cells the virus infiltrates, moderate the production of the helpful protein and perhaps introduce the virus through the blood stream to eliminate the need to inject it directly into the brain.
“That’s a tall order, these three things,” Patterson said. “But we think it is necessary for down-the-line clinical application.”
Patterson expressed confidence that the scientific work will progress. “But then the problem becomes finding a group that want to finance the clinical trials,” he said. “That can be quite a difficult endeavor. You have to find a foundation — and most foundations don’t have that kind of money — or a pharmaceutical company or medical school or hospital, and most don’t have the kind of money for this.”
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