Current capabilities in nanotechnology not only promise better vehicles for drug delivery, but also provide materials nanoengineered to promote specific tissue healing. From a Northwestern University press release (credit PhysOrg.com) “Promising new nanotechnology for spinal cord injury“:
A spinal cord injury often leads to permanent paralysis and loss of sensation below the site of the injury because the damaged nerve fibers can’t regenerate. The nerve fibers or axons have the capacity to grow again, but don’t because they’re blocked by scar tissue that develops around the injury.
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.
…”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.”
…”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.”
…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.”
The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience (abstract)