© Dr. Jörg Ruschel

Cancer drug promotes regeneration and recovery

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A group of scientists supported by Wings for Life achieved regeneration of damaged spinal cord nerve fibers by using a drug for cancer treatment. The drug was even able to reduce the scar formation at the injury site, leading to regeneration and functional recovery.

  • Epothilone B was able to reduce the scar formation and promote nerve regeneration leading to functional recovery
  • Epothilone B has been already approved by the FDA for treating certain types of aggressive cancers, which should greatly simplify possible trials for SCI
  • Epothilone B can cross the blood-brain barrier and can therefore be delivered systematically, making the treatment much easier

The group of Frank Bradke at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, in Bonn, recently published a paper in the journal Science entitled “Systemic administration of Epothilone B promotes axon regeneration after spinal cord injury.” The FDA recently approved this molecule for certain types of cancer. Epothilones prevent cancer cells from dividing by interfering with tubulin, the “bones” of the cells.

By applying small amounts of this drug to experimental models, Bradke’s group found that Epothilone B had a dual positive effect. First it was able to disrupt the cells that are normally forming the fibrotic scar barrier, which is preventing axonal regeneration. And this was also accompanied by the decrease of some of the inhibitory molecules that are expressed at the injury site. Second the microtubules stabilization was able to activate the growing tips of injured nerve cells, leading to a thorough regeneration. Importantly this effect translated into a better functional outcome.

Epothilone B also presents another noticeable advantage over other type of treatments: it can cross the blood-brain barrier making its delivery much easier. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain and the spinal cord from "foreign substances" present in the blood stream and thus most molecules, also drugs are unable to cross it However Epothilone B can be easily delivered anywhere in the blood stream through a simple injection, is rapidly absorbed, and remains at constant levels at the injury site for several days.

Another significant advantage of this molecule is the fact that it is currently being tested for certain types of aggressive cancers at much higher concentrations than the ones used by Bradke’s group. This means that pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and toxicological study, necessary before starting a clinical trial, were already achieved. As the paper concludes “The dual effect and the efficacy after systemic and post-injury administration give epothilones a promising translational perspective for treatment of the injured CNS”.