Tiny worm may help repair nerve damage – University of Queensland research

University of Queensland researchers have discovered that a particular species of roundworm, that has a remarkable ability to self-heal, may hold the key to repairing nerve damage in humans.

The researchers have discovered the molecular mechanism that allows a severed roundworm to fuse itself back together.  The project leader, Dr Massimo Hilliard from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at UQ, said that the findings provided hope for treating nerve injuries such as spinal cord injury or vascular damage.

At the moment neurosurgery may try and fix damaged nerves by stitching them back together, but there has been limited success with this approach.  It’s possible that with knowledge gained from studying the roundworms, neurosurgeons may be able to deliver molecules to the damaged nerve that will act like a kind of glue and encourage healing.

“This [discovery] will now open new avenues to try to exploit this knowledge in other systems closer to human physiology, and hopefully move further towards solving nerve injuries,” Dr Hilliard said.

“We’ll now try to understand if a similar process occurs in vertebrates and, if it doesn’t, how we can use what we have learned from worms to make it happen and then scale it up towards humans.”

Research paper lead author Dr Brent Neumann, also from QBI, said the C. elegans roundworm was an ideal model for studying the nervous system.

“We study the roundworm species C. elegans because its transparency, simplistic structure, and known genetics allow us to easily understand the processes that occur inside its body,” Dr Neumann said.

“This meant we were able to progress rapidly, and go from a description of what happens, to understanding the very process of how it happens on a genetic and molecular level.”

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