A joint research team formed by Kyoto University and Osaka University has succeeded in repairing finger function in monkeys with spinal cord injuries by using an antibody to thwart a protein that blocks neural regeneration.

Details of the findings made by the team, which includes Kyoto University researcher Hiroshi Nakagawa, were published online by the British journal Cerebral Cortex on Friday.

The success precedes a clinical trial of the treatment that might be launched for spinal injury patients this year by a group led by Osaka University and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp., sources said.

Japanese hospitals see over 5,000 spinal cord injuries per year as a result of traffic or accidents. Of the more than 200,000 patients, only about 10 percent have been able to rehabilitate enough to return to work or school.

In the joint study, the team focused on repulsive guidance molecule-a (RGMa), a protein that accumulates around a spinal lesion and inhibits nerve cell regeneration.

The researchers created an antibody to neutralize RGMa and applied it to rhesus monkeys that were unable to move their fingers due to spinal cord injuries for four weeks. After 14 weeks of observation, they found the monkeys had recovered at least 80 percent of their finger dexterity.

The results indicate that neutralization of RGMa is “a potential target for achieving restored manual dexterity in primates,” the researchers said in the journal.

“If the treatment is clinically applied to the early stages of damage, it may be effective,” said Masahiko Takada, a professor at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute who was also a member of the team.

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