It used to be considered dogma that a nerve, once injured, could never be repaired. Now, researchers have learned that some nerves, even nerves in parts of the brain, can regenerate or be replaced. By studying the chemical signals that encourage or impede the repair of nerves, researchers at the University of Washington, the Salk Institute, and other institutions may contribute to eventual treatments for injured spines and diseased retinas, according to a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Much of this research focuses on stem cells, one of several types of general cells that can give rise to specialized cells, like neurons. It was once thought that human stem cells were only found in embryos, and in bone marrow, where they produce blood cells. But stem cells are also being found in adults, including the brain and the eye. For example, stems cells steadily replace dead neurons in the olfactory bulb, which transmits scent signals to the brain, and the hippocampal dentate gyrus, an area that organizes short-term memory.
However, the pace of stem-cell repairs in humans is slow. And in some cases, stem cells can even impede healing. Stem cells in an injured spinal cord can create a sticky scar that blocks nerve regeneration, according to Dr. Philip Horner, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery in the UW School of Medicine.
Walter Neary | EurekAlert!
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Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz (Germany) together with scientists from Dresden, Leipzig, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Madrid (Spain) have now developed and characterized a novel, metal-organic material which displays electrical properties mimicking those of highly crystalline silicon. The material which can easily be fabricated at room temperature could serve as a replacement for expensive conventional inorganic materials used in optoelectronics.
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