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Shielding cells from edema

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Spinal cord and brain injuries face one main issue: the injured tissue is swelling and resulting in a more devastating damage. Recently researchers found out a new therapeutic target.

What is leading to an edema?
Injuries of the central nervous system lead to the disruption of the normal blood flow within the tissue. Cells deprived of oxygen, quickly become saltier. As a result, an increased liquid influx through water channel pores in the cell, so-called aquaporins, occurs and causes an edema. Swollen cells exert pressure on the surrounding healthy tissue and further increase the amount of damage. That could really make a difference for a patient as initially preserved moving function of an arm could get lost completely.

Current treatment
Current therapies only manage the symptoms. These include treatment with highly concentrated agents, which are used to withdraw the liquid. Another possibility are surgical interventions which aim to make space for injured tissues to swell by removing bone material. However, the application is not indicated in each case, temporarily limited and potentially risky. Thus, a direct treatment for the edema currently does not exist.

The discovery
An international team of scientists found that an already-licensed anti-psychotic medicine - trifluoperazine – has the capacity to block aquaporins. Trifluoperazine is already licensed for use in humans to treat patients with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions. Its long-term use is associated with side effects, but in this case, experiments suggest that a single dose would be enough to successfully prevent edema. Testing the treatment on injured rats, they found that animals given a single dose of the drug at the trauma site recovered full movement and sensitivity in as little as two weeks.  This novel treatment could be ready for clinical application at a low cost and in the very near future.

This study was published in the journal Cell.

Source: Kitchen P, Salman MM, Halsey AM , Clarke-Bland C, MacDonald JA, Ishida H, Vogel HJ, Almutiri S, Logan A, Kreida S, Al-Jubair T, Winkel Missel J, Gourdon P, Törnroth-Horsefield S, Conner MT, Ahmed Z, Conner AC, Bill RM. Targeting Aquaporin-4 Subcellular Localization to Treat Central Nervous System Edema. Cell 181,784-799, May 14, 2020.

You can find out more on the spinal cord and the influence of its damage on the human body in our basic-information. Wings for Life Glossary gives an understanding of scientific terms.