Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois have been working on developing an injectable therapy based on nanofibers, which could help repair severe spinal cord injuries.
For the study, the researchers gave a single injection into the tissues surrounding the spinal cords. The mice all had several spinal cord injuries. The injection then sent bioactive signals to trigger the regeneration and reparation of cells, helping to improve the severed extensions of neurons, increasing the chances that electrical signals will be sent between the brain and the rest of the body. Results were also seen in regards to:
- Scar tissue was significantly diminished.
- The layer of axons which is vital for transmitting electrical signals in an efficient manner was reformed around cells.
- Functional blood vessels formed to deliver nutrients to cells located at the site of injury.
- There was an increased level of surviving motor neurons.
- Materials biodegraded into nutrients for the cells within 12 weeks, completely disappearing from the body without noticeable side effects.
After the treatment, amazingly, the mice regained the ability to be able to walk again. The research team also discovered that the specialised formulations of their therapy performed better during in vitro tests (occurs in a laboratory and usually involves studying microorganisms or human or animal cells in culture) with human cells, indicating increased bioactivity and cellular signalling.
"Receptors in neurons and other cells constantly move around," leader of the study, Stupp said. "The key innovation in our research, which has never been done before, is to control the collective motion of more than 100,000 molecules within our nanofibers. By making the molecules move, 'dance' or even leap temporarily out of these structures, known as supramolecular polymers, they are able to connect more effectively with receptors."
Looking down other potential routes, the group of researchers think that the new therapy could be effective as a prevention treatment for paralysis after a major trauma or other diseases, as well as being used in a variety of other therapies.