Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) promotes the survival ofmotor nerve cells in chick embryos, suggesting that it may beused to treat motor neuron degenerative diseases.

Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.,and Synergen Inc. of Boulder, Colo., reported in Friday's issue ofScience that human CNTF protected spinal motor neurons fromcell death during embryonic chicken development.

CNTF's name came from its ability to promote the survival ofciliary neurons in an in vitro bioassay. However the scientistsfound that CNTF did not protect ciliary, sensory or sympatheticneurons in chick embryos. In their report, the researchersacknowledged the possibility that CNTF may indeed protectthese neurons in newborns or adults. In vitro studies, theynoted, do not always predict what occurs during developmentin the body.

Synergen (NASDAQ: SYGN) recently received the first patentcovering the CNTF gene and methods to produce the protein.The company is developing CNTF to treat peripheral nerveinjuries caused by chemotherapy or by diseases such asdiabetes. Other companies working on CNTF include RegeneronPharmaceutical Inc. of Tarrytown, N.Y., and CaliforniaBiotechnology Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

-- Carol Talkington Verser, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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