Nerves are essential for coordination and movement of the limbs, and physical damage to nerves is a leading cause of disability. When a patient suffers a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, fall, or surgical error, the loss of limb use can be devastating to the quality of life.
Nerves that have been severed typically degenerate because the contact they make with the muscles they innervate is an important signal for nerve survival. The nerve possesses some innate ability to regrow with potential limited restoration of function, but to date microsurgery, physical therapy and waiting are the only treatments available to aid recovery. PNR&D investigators are working on novel approaches for improving recovery following nerve and spinal cord trauma that are targeted at increasing functional regrowth of nerves.
In complementary studies to our work on neuropathy and neuromuscular disorders like ALS, PNR&D investigators are exploring the events associated with peripheral nerve injury and examining the effects of therapeutic compounds that prevent neuronal degeneration and/or promote regeneration. These approaches include investigations into how nerves spontaneously regenerate following an injury so that these pathways could be utilized and targeted for therapies, as well as innovative approaches like gene therapy. The idea behind gene therapy is to use a common virus where the infectious part of the virus is replaced with genes that could help in the support or repair of damaged cells. The virus can then use its inherent infectious mechanisms to insert the new genes for beneficial proteins into damaged nervous tissue. Our goal is to discover which of the common viruses are best to use for gene therapy in the nervous system, and which therapeutic factors provide the best effects on nerve injury and diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease.
Current research projects by PNR&D investigators:
- Vocal fold paralysis therapies
- Gene therapy for vocal fold paralysis