Apr 21, 2008
Neurologists at Northwestern University have made a minor breakthrough in the field of nerve regeneration: They've developed a form of self-assembling nanofibre that can be used by damaged nerve cells to stitch themselves back together. The process involves a solution of molecules (the names of the compounds involved were not included in this article) that, under the correct circumstances, will arrange themselves into molecular-sized tubes that act as repair scaffolds for injured nerve cells in the spinal cords of mice. Ordinarily, when nerves are damaged, scar tissue develops at the injury sites and precludes rejoining the ends in any fashion that permits signal transfer. The nanofibres thus produced prevent scarring and by hooking the calcium and sodium channels of the cell membranes, give the cells something to rebuild on top of. Interestingly, rather than using an implanted substance of some kind (as in previous nerve regeneration trials), the solution in question is instead injected, which makes it far less invasive. The experimental solution has proven effective to some degree when introduced to the site of injury up to 24 hours after initial insult to tissue. While the treatment is not yet out of the prototyping stage, the experimental mice were able to support themselves on formerly-paralyzed limbs and navigate their cages.
This is definitely a technology to keep an eye on.