Verhaagen Group

Wings for life grant for neuroregeneration

Wings for life awarded a grant of 200.000 euros to the neuroregeneration group led by Joost Verhaagen. The grant was awarded to the project: ‘Promoting long-distance regeneration of lumber spinal motor neurons by gene therapy using a novel immune-evasive gene switch’

In patients longitudinal spinal cord lesions due to traction to the brachial plexus often cause complete and permanent loss of motor and sensory function. Until fairly recent, such lesions were considered impossible to repair. The aim of this project is to develop a gene-based treatment strategy that has the potential to promote long-distance motor neuron regeneration following ventral spinal root avulsion lesions.

The Verhaagen group will employ a novel immune-evasive gene switch to direct temporally and spatially controlled combinatorial expression of the potent motor neuron survival and axon growth factor glia-cell line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and ChondroitinaseABC (CHABC), an enzyme which digests the inhibitory extracellular matrix in chronically denervated peripheral nerves.

This gene therapeutic strategy offers the unique advantage of temporal and spatial control over the expression of GDNF and CHABC in the Schwann cells present along the centimeters long nerve pathway. We expect that our approach will result in functional reinnervation of denervated hind paw muscles. Although the current project is fundamental in nature the group also aims to make an important contribution towards future clinical translation of gene therapy as a way to promote spinal cord regeneration.

Wings for life

Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation. Their mission is to find a cure for spinal cord injury. Wings for Life funds world-class scientific research and clinical trials around the globe aimed at healing the injured spinal cord.


Verhaagen Group

This laboratory performs basic and translational research with the aim to advance the field of restorative neuroscience and neurology. We focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie degeneration, regeneration and plasticity of the central and peripheral nervous system. A significant portion of research is dedicated to the identification of novel genes and molecular pathways that affect the capacity of the nervous system to regenerate. Genomics, bioinformatics and high-throughput functional screening are key components of our research strategy and gene therapy based on advanced viral vector technology is applied to validate the therapeutic efficacy of molecular targets in clinically relevant animal models of neurodegeneration and repair. The ultimate goal of the Laboratory for Neuroregeneration is to develop novel therapeutic strategies to promote regeneration and plasticity of injured axons.

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