Nano-engineered gel may enable severed spinal cord fibers to regenerate
Researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, have demonstrated that a nano-engineered gel can enable severed spinal cord fibres in mice to regenerate and grow by inhibiting the formation of scar tissue at the injury site.
The gel self-assembles into a scaffold after being injected into the spinal cord in liquid form, supporting nerve fibre (axon) growth up and down the spinal cord and the penetration of scar tissue at the injury site which has previously blocked and prevented nerve fibres from growing again. The growth is supported in two critical directions – the sensory axons (up the spinal cord to the brain) and the motor axons (down to the legs).
In addition to reducing the formation of scar tissue, the nano-engineered gel also instructs the stem cells to produce a new cell that makes myelin in place of the scar tissue they would normally form. Myelin is a substance that permits the rapid transmission of nerve impulses by sheathing the axons of the spinal cord.
Clinical trial could begin in several years If the gel is approved for humans.