Northwestern University researchers have shown that a new nano-engineered gel inhibits the formation of scar tissue at the injury site and enables the severed spinal cord fibers to regenerate and grow. The gel is injected as a liquid into the spinal cord and self -assembles into a scaffold that supports the new nerve fibers as they grow up and down the spinal cord, penetrating the site of the injury.
When the gel was injected into mice with a spinal cord injury, after six weeks the animals had a greatly enhanced ability to use their hind legs and walk.
The research is published today in the April 2 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
"We are very excited about this," said lead author John Kessler, M.D., Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "We can inject this without damaging the tissue. It has great potential for treating human beings."
Kessler stressed caution, however, in interpreting the results. "It's important to understand that something that works in mice will not necessarily work in human beings. At this point in time we have no information about whether this would work in human beings."
"There is no magic bullet or one single thing that solves the spinal cord injury, but this gives us a brand new technology to be able to think about treating this disorder," said Kessler, also the chair of the Davee Department of Neurology at the Feinberg School. "It could be used in combination with other technologies including stem cells, drugs or other kinds of interventions."
“We designed our self-assembling nanostructures -- the building blocks of the gel -- to promote neuron growth,” said co-author Samuel I. Stupp, Board of Trustees Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemistry, and Medicine and director of Northwestern’s Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine. “To actually see the regeneration of axons in the spinal cord after injury is a fascinating outcome.”
The nano-engineered gel works in several ways to support the regeneration of spinal cord nerve fibers. In addition to reducing the formation of scar tissue, it also instructs the stem cells --which would normally form scar tissue -- to instead to produce a helpful new cell that makes myelin. Myelin is a substance that sheaths the axons of the spinal cord to permit the rapid transmission of nerve impulses.
The gel's scaffolding also supports the growth of the axons in two critical directions -- up the spinal cord to the brain (the sensory axons) and down to the legs (the motor axons.) "Not everybody realizes you have to grow the fibers up the spinal cord so you can feel where the floor is. If you can't feel where the floor is with your feet, you can't walk," Kessler said.
Now Northwestern researchers are working on developing the nano-engineered gel to be acceptable as a pharmaceutical for the Food & Drug Administration.
If the gel is approved for humans, a clinical trial could begin in several years.
"It's a long way from helping a rodent to walk again and helping a human being walk again," Kessler stressed again. "People should never lose sight of that. But this is still exciting because it gives us a new technology for treating spinal cord injury."
Marla Paul | EurekAlert!
Study suggests possible new target for treating and preventing Alzheimer's
02.12.2016 | Oregon Health & Science University
The first analysis of Ewing's sarcoma methyloma opens doors to new treatments
01.12.2016 | IDIBELL-Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Information Technology
05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences