Myelin Repair – fixing the top layer of our neural roading system
One of nature’s most common and observable structures is a layered system, from large mountainous strata deposits to layers that form skin to myelination that protects and insulates all human neural connectors (McGrath, 2013). The schematic below stylises the layers of lipid based membranes around a nerve, one of literally millions in our brain. Myelin acts as insulating material around the axon that enables the energy (message) of the action potential (energy pulses) to travel down the axon quickly and efficiently through the brain nerve system, and protecting the nerve from energy loss. The deterioration of this insulating buffer causes many different issues in the human body one of which is multiple sclerosis (MS). The sufferer of MS experiences delayed message transmittal to various parts of their body. For example, deterioration in the part of the brain that controls speech and language will impede the person’s oral communication. As the brain controls messages to the whole body, any part can be affected. MS has a range of muscle weakness and spasms, can cause fatigue and cognitive impairment, pain and incontinence depending on which areas of the neural roading system is affected.
Picture from http://real-agenda.com/2013/06/03/multiple-sclerosis-causes-a-breakdown-in-our-life-cycle/
Multiple sclerosis currently has no cure. Treatments focus on the alleviation of symptoms such as muscle relaxants and anti-spasm medications. Current therapeutic research is focussing on identifying the genes that are implicated in multiple sclerosis at the Duke Centre for Human Genetics. But how helpful is early detection if there are no options for repair. But as crazy as it sounds, what if research approached re-myelination like it does repairing roads? Essentially our neural system is a transport system, transporting chemicals and energy and messages from one part of our body to another. Signals from the brain are blocked due to damaged myelin. What if we could repair myelin like we resurface and repair potholes in the roads, or as we approach repairing skin – understanding the layers and emulsions that make up our nano-world as we do our outer world.
At present there are more impossibilities than possibilities. But science can explore today’s impossibilities and ‘what-if’s”. Podbielska et al (2013) have been exploring oligodendrocyte protection and myelin repair in animals and potential relevance for humans. If they can understand the myelination process, this may lead the way to future re-myelination interventions and therapies. Potential for re-sealing our neural roading system is a long way off, but it’s an appreciation for the inherent beauty and strength (McGrath, 2012) in the lamellar structure of myelin is a start of a long scientific journey.Genetic research can go some way as to answering why one person suffers and another doesn’t. Questions around treatment are vast considering the how on earth would we target repair on such a nano-scale even if we found a suitable ‘material’ or technology. As we pursue the understanding of nature’s structures, maybe new technologies can make the impossible, possible.
General initial information about MS is found at DocSuggest, Healthcare Simplified, What is Multiple Sclerosis http://blog.docsuggest.com/1888/what-is-multiple-sclerosis/ retrieved 9 Feb 2014
McGrath, K. (2012, May). Lecture 4. Natures Patterns: Complexity [PowerPoint Slides]. Lecture conducted as part of Scie211, 2013/2014. Victoria University of Wellington, NZ.
Outlines for a range of genetic research areas, including multiple sclerosis are explored at Duke University Mhttp://www.chg.duke.edu/diseases/ms.html
Podbielska, M., Banik, N., Kurowska, E., & Hogan, E. (2013). Myelin Recovery in Multiple Sclerosis: The Challenge of Remyelination. Brain Sci. 3, no. 3: 1282-1324. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/journal/brainsci/special_issues/myelin_repair