Work at the University of Idaho aimed at learning how nerves create their own pathways through the body has received a grant from the National Institute of Health.
The $643,670 four-year grant will enable research into how nerve cells are instructed to grow along the right pathway to create the complicated nervous system that allows human beings and animals to function, said Mike Laskowski, director of the WAMI program at the Moscow school.
WAMI is the medical education organization for the Northwest states.
New information indicates there are protein molecules that determine the directions nerves take. A gene or genes could carry coding that turns the production of those specialized molecules on and off.
“Embryos have a high concentration of these molecules, and we know that if an infant suffers nerve damage, the repair is much more rapid and complete than in an adult,” Laskowski said.
Adults have far fewer of those substances.
“The specialized molecules have been found in several areas, including the optic nerve, spinal cord and nerve-muscle system,” he said. “Also, the same family of proteins is present in all levels of animal life.”
Laskowski said the research may find a way to add messengers to skin cells, or “fibroblasts,” telling genes to produce the protein for nerve growth along those pathways.