Researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford are a step closer to finding potential therapies that could one day help people with a type of paralysis take their own steps, according to research recently published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
The researchers studied cells from people who have hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), which includes a group of inherited disorders in which people have increasingly weak and stiff legs that often leads to them needing a cane, walker or wheelchair.
A team of researchers from the Regenerative Medicine and Disability Laboratory at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford focuses on fighting human motor neuron diseases such as this. This team from the Department of Biomedical Sciences includes Xue-Jun Li, Ph.D., the Michael A. Werckle, MD, Endowed Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences; post-doctoral researchers Yongchao Mou, Ph.D., and Chong-Chong Xu, M.D., Ph.D.; and graduate student Dhruvi Shah. These researchers collaborated with colleagues at the University of Connecticut, including Dr. Li’s former student Kyle Denton, and National Institutes of Health on this research.
“We know that in HSP, parts of nerve cells break down, but we didn’t really know how,” explains Dr. Li. “This research is helping us understand the genetic defects that cause this, and how, through stem cell therapy, these specific mechanisms could be targeted.”
The researchers were able to look at stem cells generated from patients with two types of HSP that are caused by certain genetic mutations and get a better understanding of what goes wrong in these cells that makes them not branch out like they should. They also were able to find that when processes involving mitochondrial fission and fusion were modulated in these cells, the cell growth was more normal.
Now that the researchers better understand the mechanisms of the disease and a potential way to prevent it, the next step is to identify therapeutic agents that could regulate this pathway for future treatment of hereditary spastic paraplegia.
The Regenerative Medicine and Disability Laboratory is part of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. Established through generous support of the Blazer Foundation, this lab is headed by Dr. Li and Dr. Mathew Thoppil-Mathew who focus on fighting human motor neuron diseases and improving the integration of metal implants into the surrounding bone tissue, respectively. By combining stem cell biology, bioengineering, biomaterials, system biology, pharmacology and medicine, research in the RMDR Lab aims to identify therapeutic agents, novel biomaterials and innovative approaches to improve clinical practice to provide better health care to patients with disabilities.
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