New technology offers breakthrough in cerebral palsy treatment

TORONTO – American scientists say a new nanotechnology-based technique that can target hard-to-reach parts of the brain could be used to treat cerebral palsy.

The treatment helped rabbits born with the condition regain mobility, marking a breakthrough in cerebral palsy research and providing patients with a hope that treatment may be available after birth.

Researchers at John Hopkins University Medicine say tree-like molecules called dendrimers can make their way past barriers in the brain and carry drugs to areas affected by cerebral palsy.

Baby rabbits treated with the dendrimers had increased motor function within five days after being treated at birth, according to lead researcher, Dr. Sujatha Kannan.

Rabbits’ brains develop before birth and after birth, like humans, which is why the animal was used in the study. Most animals are born with motor abilities nearly fully-formed.

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Cerebral palsy weakens muscle movements and posture due to damage in the developing brain, either in the womb or during the first few months of a baby’s life. It’s an umbrella term – doctors diagnose the condition to a wide variety of nervous system disorders.

CP affects between one in 500 and one in 1,000 newborns, though some infants aren’t as affected as others.

The brain tries to respond to injury by activating cells called microglia and astrocytes, but these cells can “overreact” leading to inflammation, the researchers say.

While current anti-inflammatory drugs can’t successfully make their way to affected areas in the brain, Kannan’s team suggests that the dendrimers hit target areas and force inflamed cells to “eat up their own poison.”

“(Dendrimers) can go into these cells and deliver the poison that shuts these cells down. When you do that you can have a dramatically positive motor function in animals that suffer from cerebral palsy,” Kannan told Global National’s Jennifer Tryon.

“Shutting down ongoing inflammation can have a dramatically positive consequence to CP.”

The rabbits that were treated with dendrimers could take steps, hops, walk around and their hind limbs weren’t stiff compared to their counterparts that didn’t receive treatment.

The researchers’ next steps include studying if these positive results recorded in the baby rabbits can be sustained into adulthood.

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They conceded that there’s a “big difference” between trials in animals and humans, so there will be more work ahead.

“But we think this holds a pretty big promise. Especially in cerebral palsy,” Kannan said.