April 10, 2008
Nanomaterials Repair Spinal Cords In Mice

Self assembling nanofibers injected into spinal cords guide nerve fibers to grow over breaks in spinal cords and restore movement.

An engineered material that can be injected into damaged spinal cords could help prevent scars and encourage damaged nerve fibers to grow. The liquid material, developed by Northwestern University materials science professor Samuel Stupp, contains molecules that self-assemble into nanofibers, which act as a scaffold on which nerve fibers grow.

Stupp and his colleagues described in a recent paper in the Journal of Neuroscience that treatment with the material restores function to the hind legs of paralyzed mice. Previously, researchers have restored function in the paralyzed hind legs of mice, but those experiments involved surgically implanting various types of material, while the new substance can simply be injected into the animals. The nanofibers break down into nutrients in three to eight weeks, says Stupp.

I hope researchers are able to pretty quickly try this treatment in other animals and that human trials aren't too far off.

Most of us are going to live to see the day when people with severed spinal cords regain the ability to feel and walk again.

Update: Some types of nerves naturally follow blood vessels when growing.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that blood vessels in the head can guide growing facial nerve cells with blood pressure controlling proteins. The findings, which suggest that blood vessels throughout the body might have the same power of persuasion over many nerves, are published this week in Nature.

“We’re excited to have stumbled across another family of proteins that can tell a growing nerve which way to grow,” says David Ginty, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at Hopkins and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “But the really interesting thing is that the nerves appear to use blood vessels as guideposts to direct their growth in one of several possible directions.”

The research team studied in mice a group of about 15,000 nerve cells known as the superior cervical ganglia, or SCG, which extend projections that innervate various structures in the head including the eyes, mouth and salivary glands. The SCG sits in a Y-like branching point of the blood vessel in the neck that supplies the head with blood, the carotid artery. In the developing embryo, nerve projections grow out of the SCG and grow along one of the two branches of the carotid artery; the nerves that grow along the internal carotid innervate the eyes and mouth among other head structures, and those that grow along the external carotid innervate the salivary glands.

These researchers are trying to figure out why the nerves follow the blood vessels. That knowledge will be useful in figuring out how to guide nerve growth for therapeutic reasons.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 April 10 10:54 PM  Biotech Tissue Engineering

Brock said at April 11, 2008 9:41 AM:

I think most of us will live to see the day when we can regrow _anything_.

Arguably if you have to regrow your brain the body isn't worth keeping and the person would be someone else. But I bet we could do it in theory.

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