New Research Promising For CP

New Research Promising For CP

A leading US researcher into Cerebral Palsy (CP) has released exciting research into Cerebral Palsy.

Professor Stephen Back (left), MD, PhD and Associate Professor in Paediatric Neurologyat Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) released exciting results in CP research that could have implications for repairing brain injury that leads to Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia.

The New CP prevention research was unveiled at the prestigious American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine Conference in Orlando, Florida. OHSU researchers have identified some of the key factors that prevent the repair of brain damage caused by complications of premature birth and other conditions. 

The results of this research provide an explanation for the failure of the nervous system to repair itself after injury. These findings have also suggested ways that some forms of brain damage – such as Cerebral Palsy Spastic Diplegia – could be partially ‘reversed’ in the near future.

Researchers had known for some time that survivors of premature birth are at particularly high risk of developing unique patterns of injury that involve the whitematter of the brain. The white matter is rich in the nerve fibres that interconnect different portions of the brain. 

White matter injury is characterised by a spectrum of damage that ranges from severe cystic lesions (Periventricular Leukomalacia or PVL) to localised or diffused non-cystic injury that affects myelin formation. Myelin is the insulation around nerves that allows the nervous system to rapidly and effectively transmit information. 

White matter injury results in Diplegic CP, which affects leg movement and walking. By school age, at least half of all children with Diplegic CP also have significant cognitive and learning disabilities. 

Injury to the developing brain appears to be caused by lack of blood flow and oxygen and leads to persistent white matter damage that is present throughout life.

Previous research by Professor Back already established a link between damage to themyelin in the brain associated with premature birth and damage to immature cells that are highly enriched in the developing white matter. 

Professor Back’s research focuses on the cause of Cerebral Palsy, in particular the cellular basis of white matter damage in premature infants. However, as these damaged immature cells were located in a part of the brain known also for the presence of stem cells, this link still failed to explain why these damaged cells could not repair the damaged white matter.

Professor Back and his colleague at OHSU, Lawrence Sherman, PhD, conducted various experiments on mice that revealed an accumulation of high levels of Hyaluronic Acid (HA) associated with the damaged myelin, resulting in experiencing tremors similar to those seen in individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. The OHSU researchers have discovered that, when HA accumulates, the nervous system fails to repair damaged myelin. Conversely, by reducing HA levels, they discovered that the immature cells would develop into the cells that can make myelin.

Their experiments concluded that HA build-up appears to explain the failure of the damaged white matter to repair itself. Consistent with this idea, Professor Back has found that an excessive build-up of HA also occurs in the brains of premature babies who have suffered white matter injury. If applied to humans, the theory is that brain tissue repair and recovery of function could be promoted by preventing the HA build-up. 

Such strategies could subsequently partially ‘reverse’ the damage in the brains of people with Spastic Diplegia. Human trials are yet to begin. Since pre-term birth can interrupt the normal myelination process, these findings are an extremely exciting development in piecing together the puzzle of Cerebral Palsy. Generally affecting muscle control, mobility or communication, CP is the most common form of childhood disability. 

Every 18 hours a child can be born with or develop CP. There is no pre-birth test and no known cure.