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February 29, 2012 at 22:59 PM EST
Tiny Tropical Fish Could Cure Stephen Hawking
Researchers may have found a cure for motor neurone disease contained in the cells of zebrafish.
Scottish scientists could be on the verge of finding a breakthrough cure for motor neurone disease, the debilitating condition suffered by famous physicist Stephen Hawking. Surprisingly, the answer may be found in zebrafish, a transparent freshwater fish commonly kept in household tropical fish tanks.
Previously thought to be incurable, motor neuron disease causes paralysis, difficulties with speech and breathing, and can sometimes be fatal. University of Edinburgh scientists believe however, that a protein contained in zebrafish may provide a cure.
Motor neurones can be generated by humans during embryonic development, but the ability is lost soon after birth. Zebrafish on the other hand, use a cell mechanism to produce new motor neurons, giving them the ability to repair their own spinal chords.
Now published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the new research has found that zebrafish produce a protein called Notch1, which sends signals to the fish’s progenitor cells telling them to stop producing motor neurons. By stopping Notch1 from sending these signals, scientists are able to increase the production of progenitor cells and hence, motor neurones.
These new discoveries will likely initiate the drug development process that could ultimately lead to a human cure. University of Edinburgh scientist Dr Catherina Becker, said: “If we can find out more about the cell mechanisms involved in zebrafish to make motor neurones, we could potentially manipulate these pathways in humans with the hope of being able to generate new motor neurones.”
Aside from helping motor neurone disease sufferers like Stephen Hawking, the new findings may also help stroke victims to regenerate neural pathways. There may also be hope for those with spinal chord injuries, the likes of which lead to the death of actor Christopher Reeve.
The research was financed by the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research at the University of Edinburgh, the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at John Hopkins University and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
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