Nanotech-boosted drug lessens cerebral palsy symptoms in rabbits

A nanotechnology-enhanced, anti-inflammatory drug successfully treated newborn rabbits with cerebral palsy, government and university researchers say, reducing their distorted motor skills and muscle coordination and minimizing the brain inflammation that can lead to the brain disorder.

Read the detailed study in the journal Science Translational Medicine. But before you get there, consider that this treatment is a big breakthrough. (There's that word again.) It's the first, the scientists say, to show an anti-inflammatory drug beefed up with nanotech that can improve cerebral palsy symptoms in animals. And thanks to nanotechnology, the drug crossed the blood-brain barrier, which is a significant challenge nanotech appears to address. But years of additional animal testing and then human trials are ahead before this concept bears itself out.

Still, it is an extremely promising find because cerebral palsy, which distorts motor skills and muscle coordination, doesn't have a viable treatment. Children are as old as age 3 before they are diagnosed, the researchers note, and they develop the disorder over time, as the microglia cells in the brain become inflamed, injure the brain and the process leads to cerebral palsy. The disorder affects more than 764,000 children and adults in the U.S. alone, according to statistics from the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, with the lifetime cost for treatment exceeding $11.5 billion, according to CDC statistics cited by the researchers.

Why use rabbits? The researchers say their version of cerebral palsy mimics human brain inflammation and the resulting problems children with the condition have. But to create that condition, they expose the rabbit fetuses to endotoxin, which induces the brain inflammation, leaving the newborn rabbits with cerebral palsy-like behavior, struggling to walk or hop.

Scientists treated the cerebral palsy rabbits intravenously in their first day of life with either saline, a drug known as NAC or NAC enhanced with a nanotechnology dendrimer. (NAC is an anti-inflammatory/antioxidant drug being tested in all kinds of ways, like for Alzheimer's disease, autism spectrum disorders and fetal inflammation.) Rabbits with the nanotech-boosted treatment immediately improved and could walk and hop properly in about 5 days. The non-nanotech NAC also helped boost the rabbits' neuron count and reduce inflammation compared to animals that just got saline, the researchers said.

Scientists at the Perinatology Research Branch at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Detroit Medical Center worked on the study.

- here's the release
- read the journal transcript