Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stem cells + nanofibers = Promising nerve research

08.11.2012
Researchers coax cells to grow and myelinate along thin fibers, with potential use in testing treatments for neurological diseases

Every week in his clinic at the University of Michigan, neurologist Joseph Corey, M.D., Ph.D., treats patients whose nerves are dying or shrinking due to disease or injury.


This shows an oligodendrocyte nerve cell (red/purple) wrapped around a polymer nanofiber (white/clear).

Credit: Univ. of Michigan/UCSF

He sees the pain, the loss of ability and the other effects that nerve-destroying conditions cause – and wishes he could give patients more effective treatments than what's available, or regenerate their nerves. Then he heads to his research lab at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, where his team is working toward that exact goal.

In new research published in several recent papers, Corey and his colleagues from the U-M Medical School, VAAAHS and the University of California, San Francisco report success in developing polymer nanofiber technologies for understanding how nerves form, why they don't reconnect after injury, and what can be done to prevent or slow damage.

Using polymer nanofibers thinner than human hairs as scaffolds, researchers coaxed a particular type of brain cell to wrap around nanofibers that mimic the shape and size of nerves found in the body.

They've even managed to encourage the process of myelination – the formation of a protective coating that guards larger nerve fibers from damage. They began to see multiple concentric layers of the protective substance called myelin start to form, just as they do in the body. Together with the laboratory team of their collaborator Jonah Chan at UCSF, the authors reported the findings in Nature Methods.

The research involves oligodendrocytes, which are the supporting actors to neurons -- the "stars" of the central nervous system. Without oligodendrocytes, central nervous system neurons can't effectively transmit the electrical signals that control everything from muscle movement to brain function.

Oligodendrocytes are the type of cells typically affected by multiple sclerosis, and loss of myelin is a hallmark of that debilitating disease.

The researchers have also determined the optimum diameter for the nanofibers to support this process – giving important new clues to answer the question of why some nerves are myelinated and some aren't.

While they haven't yet created fully functioning "nerves in a dish," the researchers believe their work offers a new way to study nerves and test treatment possibilities. Corey, an assistant professor of neurology and biomedical engineering at the U-M Medical School and researcher in the VA Geriatrics Research, Education and Clinical Center, explains that the thin fibers are crucial for the success of the work.

"If it's about the same length and diameter as a neuron, the nerve cells follow it and their shape and location conform to it," he says. "Essentially, these fibers are the same size as a neuron."

The researchers used polystyrene, a common plastic, to make fibers through a technique called electrospinnning. In a recent paper in Materials Science and Engineering C, they discovered new techniques to optimize how fibers made from poly-L-lactide, a biodegradable polymer, can be better aligned to resemble neurons and to guide regenerating nerve cells.

They're also working to determine the factors that make oligodendrocytes attach to the long narrow axons of neurons, and perhaps to start forming myelin sheaths too.

By attaching particular molecules to the nanofibers, Corey and his colleagues hope to learn more about what makes this process work -- and what makes it go awry, as in diseases caused by poor nerve development.

"What we need to do for multiple sclerosis is to encourage nerves to remyelinate," he says. "For nerve damage caused by trauma, on the other hand, we need to encourage regeneration."

In addition to Corey, the research has been led by Chan, the Rachleff Professor of Neurology at UCSF, VAAAHS lab team member and U-M graduate Samuel J. Tuck, U-M biomedical engineering graduate student Michelle Leach, UCSF's Stephanie Redmond, Seonook Lee, Synthia Mellon and S.Y. Christin Chong, and Zhang-Qi Feng of U-M Biomedical Engineering.

Peripheral nerves, which have neurons at the center surrounded by cells called Schwann cells, can also be studied using the nanofiber technique. The system could also be used to study how different types of cells interact during and after nerve formation.

Toward creating new nerves, Corey's lab has collaborated with R. Keith Duncan, PhD, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology. Published in Biomacromolecules, they found that stem cells are more likely to develop into neurons when they are grown on aligned nanofibers produced in Corey's lab. They eventually hope to use this approach to build new nerves from stem cells and direct their connections to undamaged parts of the brain and to muscle.

Eventually, Corey envisions, perhaps nerves could be grown along nanofibers in a lab setting and then transferred to patients' bodies, where the fiber would safely degrade.

The research was supported by a VA Merit funding grant, the US National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Award, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS062796-02).

References:

Nature Methods 9, 917, (2012) doi:10.1038/nmeth.2105

Biomacromolecules, Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/bm301220k

Materials Science and Engineering: C, Volume 32, Issue 7, 1 October 2012, Pages 1779�

Important note for patients:

This research is still in the laboratory stages, and there are no immediate plans to perform studies in human patients. If you are interested in finding other opportunities to take part in medical research studies at U-M, please visit www.umclinicalstudies.org.

Kara Gavin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu
http://www.umclinicalstudies.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Another piece of Ebola virus puzzle identified
17.01.2019 | Texas Biomedical Research Institute

nachricht New scale for electronegativity rewrites the chemistry textbook
17.01.2019 | Chalmers University of Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

Im Focus: Mission completed – EU partners successfully test new technologies for space robots in Morocco

Just in time for Christmas, a Mars-analogue mission in Morocco, coordinated by the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as part of the SRC project FACILITATORS, has been successfully completed. SRC, the Strategic Research Cluster on Space Robotics Technologies, is a program of the European Union to support research and development in space technologies. From mid-November to mid-December 2018, a team of more than 30 scientists from 11 countries tested technologies for future exploration of Mars and Moon in the desert of the Maghreb state.

Close to the border with Algeria, the Erfoud region in Morocco – known to tourists for its impressive sand dunes – offered ideal conditions for the four-week...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new twist on a mesmerizing story

17.01.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Brilliant glow of paint-on semiconductors comes from ornate quantum physics

17.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

Drones shown to make traffic crash site assessments safer, faster and more accurate

17.01.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>