Everyone has a different definition of what it means to truly ‘live life’. Some people would argue that it’s your relationship with others that matters while others say how much you have travelled is the best indicator.
However, we can all agree that having the freedom to make your own choices is necessary to live life to the fullest. For many people, the chance to do this is taken away permanently from an injury to the spinal cord that leads to a condition known as paralysis: a state where you don’t have control over certain parts of your body.
This usually results in patients with spinal cord injuries being confined to wheelchairs, unable to pour themselves a glass of water. Forget living their best life, people with paralysis are forced to live ones they can barely call their own.
For too long, we have come to accept paralysis as a natural result of spinal cord injury, something that no one can do anything about. While other conditions such as cancer are at the heart of up and coming research, the biggest discoveries in treating paralyzed people are making buildings wheelchair accessible.
In a world of possibilities, why are people who suffer from injuries to their central nervous system destined to accept their fate of never being able to walk on their own?
At Revalysis, the problem we aim to solve is paralysis induced by trauma to a person’s spinal cord.
Before we get into our solution, let’s take a look at what happens when a person suffers from spinal cord injury.
In the United States alone, 5.4 million people live with paralysis. This isn’t a slight inconvenience, it’s a mark most people live with for their entire lives.
The most common cause is spinal cord injury. If the brain is the powerhouse, the spinal cord is like the pathway that connects it to the rest of the body. Without spinal cord function, the millions of messages your brain transmits through it every day wouldn’t get through to your body. Messages like the ones that tell your legs how to walk and your fingers how to click articles like this one.
Within the spinal cord are billions of axons which are long cable-like fibres. They are the route that electrical impulses take when travelling between your neurons. These electrical signals are responsible for telling your body what to do and when to do it.
When the spinal cord is injured, these axons get damaged severely at the area of injury which leads to anything below this point becoming paralyzed.
Currently, there is no cure for paralysis. Treatments ones that do exist are iterations on existing technologies such as improved prosthetics and physiotherapy however these do little to restore motor function.
No mainstream treatment on the market is working on completely reversing paralysis by targeting its root cause: the damaged relationship between the central nervous system and the rest of the body.
Revalysis changes that.
Our approach is a two-step treatment that removes two of the biggest obstacle in the way of axon regeneration.
In order to facilitate axon regeneration, Revalysis plans to:
Step 1: Remove the glial scar
Surprisingly, the axons in our central nervous system can actually regenerate but there is one main thing stopping them: the glial scar.
This scar acts like a wall trapping the axon from growing across it but is made up of valuable cells called astrocytes that are vital to our nervous system. If we used methods to destroy the scar, that would damage astrocytes outside of the glial scar as well which would do more harm than good.
This is where the first step in our gene therapy treatment comes into play: transforming what was once considered the villain in spinal cord injuries into the hero.
Our treatment uses two tools to genetically engineer the cells that make up that impenetrable wall we know as the glial scar into neurons:
Proteins that turn certain genes ‘on’ or ‘off’
Type of virus that uses RNA as its genetic material
By employing retroviruses containing transcription factors such as NeuroD1 into the glial scar, the virus can ‘hack’ into the cell and convert reactive astrocytes in the glial scar into functioning neurons.
This not only gets rid of the wall but also adds more healthy neurons into the central nervous system!
This approach has been proven to be effective in mice and only targets reactive astrocytes within the glial scar, leaving the rest of the central nervous system’s astrocytes unharmed.
It’s also effective long after the formation of the glial scar, meaning Revalysis’ treatment can cure paralysis caused by injuries sustained years ago.
Step 2: Neutralize myelin-associated inhibitors
If you’ve seen a charging cable, you’ll notice the plastic coating on the outside.
It insulates the cable so that electricity can be transferred safely.
A myelin sheath is like a plastic coating for an axon. It’s made up of proteins and fatty substances that allow electrical impulses to be sent efficiently in our nervous system.
After spinal cord injury, this protective layer gets damaged.
As you can imagine, since paralysis is a state where those signals aren’t being sent properly, restoring the myelin sheath which is a process known as remyelination, becomes all the more important in treating it.
In normal circumstances, myelin-associated inhibitors act like law enforcement and make sure there isn’t too much remyelination. However, after spinal cord injury occurs, these inhibitors work a little too well and prevent the process altogether. This means that damaged axons near the site of the spinal cord injury can’t repair themselves and do their job, keeping the patient’s body from healing itself.
This is where our second step comes into play. By administering IN-1 antibodies in the area of injury, they bind to the inhibitors like magnets and neutralize them.
Yale school of medicine injected these antibodies into mice with spinal cord injuries and documented long-distance regrowth of axons in the central nervous system. This directly improves chances of recovery and restoration of motor function, a.k.a whether or not a patient has control of their body.
By combining two methods to remove the biggest barriers to axon regeneration, Revalysis paves the way for the body’s natural healing processes to reverse paralysis.
To get Revalysis treatment on the market, more research relating to how these therapies will be conducted in humans will need to take place. Once that is achieved, Revalysis guarantees a future where spinal cord injuries are no longer a one way ticket to paralysis.
Learn more about Revalysis, our process, and the founders at revalysis.net.