Old Wine in New Bottle
Taxol is an ingeniously complex organic molecule originally isolated from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree. You really don’t want to be ingesting Taxol because it likely means you are being treated for lung, ovarian, breast, or head-and-neck cancer.
You also don’t want to take Taxol because its side effects include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, thinned or brittle hair, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, tingling in the hands or toes, unusual bruising or bleeding, change in bowel habits, fever, chills, cough, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, shortness of breath, severe exhaustion, skin rash, facial flushing, infertility, and chest pain. It’s probably worth it to save your life.
Taxol does its business on cancer by binding to microtubules in the nucleus of affected cells. This in turn results in microtubule stabilization, preventing the cell from dividing and thereby causing it to die. Just what you want a cancer cell to do.
And now comes an idea about Taxol completely unrelated to cancer treatment and that falls in the I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that category.
Spinal cord injury is among the scariest of afflictions because it can lead to loss of motor and sensory function with little hope of repair. In a brilliant realization, a large collaborative group of scientists from the U.S. and Europe seized on the notion that microtubule stabilization by Taxol might be just what the doctor ordered for spinal cord injury (Science [February 18, 2011], 928–931).
Why is this so? Because the nerve axon growth needed for spinal cord regeneration relies on microtubule stabilization. Experiments with injured rats confirm the hypothesis, and at much lower doses of Taxol than cause cell death and all those nasty side effects in cancer treatment.
Superman (a.k.a. Christopher Reeve) would be happy.