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Queensland research holds promise for patients with spinal cord injury

Queensland scientists have advanced a potential new treatment for spinal cord injury with a view to starting clinical trials.

Researchers at QIMR, the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), and the University of Melbourne showed that blocking a specific protein could make a dramatic difference to the balance and limb coordination of rats with spinal injuries.

QBI Director and study co-leader, Professor Perry Bartlett said the research was extremely exciting and extended previous studies showing that blocking the action of the receptor EphA4 prevented the loss of nerve tissue after injury and promoted repair.

Professor Bartlett and QIMR Professor Andrew Boyd first identified the role of EphA4 in 1998. They showed that the EphA4 protein was critical to the development of the nerves which control walking and other complex muscle functions.

“That first discovery back in 1998 opened up a clear path to a potential treatment for any diseases or injuries involving motor nerves,” Professor Boyd said.

Subsequent studies showed that after a spinal cord injury, the production of the EphA4 protein was increased and this protein acted to stop severed nerve endings from regrowing through the injury site.

Professor Boyd’s laboratory at QIMR then developed a “decoy” protein, to block, or inhibit EphA4 function. This has been used to improve recovery of function after spinal cord injury in animals.

“The idea would be to use the “decoy” treatment immediately after spinal cord injury to try to improve the patient’s recovery,” Professor Boyd said.

“And as a neurologist or neurosurgeon will tell you, if you could improve function even marginally for a quadriplegic, you could make a massive difference to their life.”

The Chair of SpinalCure Australia, Joanna Knott, said the news was extremely encouraging.

“We have followed the discoveries of the EphA4 receptor with interest. This team of researchers will certainly put Australia on the map, especially when the clinical trial begins,” Ms Knott said.

The paper can be viewed in the online edition of Journal of Neurotrauma at

This research was supported by funding from the Lisa Palmer Spinal Research Consortium and SpinalCure Australia.