July 25, 2005-- Posted at 4:00 PM CDT
(HealthDay News) -- Researchers have discovered a protein that could prove essential in treating the nearly 140 million people worldwide suffering from spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other devastating neurological diseases.
The protein, KDI tri-peptide, can block the harmful effects of a substance called glutamate that is present in all degenerative brain diseases and spinal cord injuries.
Glutamate -- produced as part of the body's natural reaction to central nervous system damage -- can cause cell death and prevent the repair of damaged nerve connections, according to a study published in the online version of the Journal of Neuroscience Research.
Scientists applied KDI to human brain cells in the laboratory to see if the protein's ability to prevent nerve cell death and promote regeneration was connected to its effect on glutamate. They found it was effective in blocking glutamate activity.
"The wider significance of this research is that KDI treatment may become the first natural and targeted therapy for people with central nervous system injuries resulting in paralysis and a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's and ALS, for which there are currently no cures," said Dr. Paivi Liesi, head of the Brain Laboratory at the University of Helsinki, which conducted the research in cooperation with the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla.
Clinical trials using KDI are expected to begin as early as next year, the researchers added.
The National Institutes of Health has more about spinal cord injuries www.nlm.nih.gov.
-- Dennis Thompson