Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Nerve Regeneration Through Nanotech

The holy grail of current medical science is nerve regeneration. Damaged neurons don't grow back, and this is a big problem for people who have suffered trauma that leaves many of them without the use of much of their bodies. Paraplegia and quadriplegia are terrible diagnoses that have no cure today because of the nerve regrowth problem.

A very recent article in Medical News Today describes two new methods, presented at the NSTI Nanotech 2007 Conference, for using nanotechnology to change the equation and promote the regeneration of neurons.

The first method, developed by researchers at the University of Miami, uses magnetic nanoparticles to "create mechanical tension that stimulates the growth and elongation of axons of the central nervous system neurons."
"By providing mechanical tension to the regrowing axon, we may be able to enhance the regenerative axon growth in vivo". This mechanically induced neurite outgrowth may provide a possible method for bypassing the inhibitory interface and the tissue beyond a CNS related injury. Using optic nerve and spinal cord tissues as in vivo models and dissociated retinal ganglion neurons as an in vitro model, De Silva and his colleagues are currently investigating how these magnetic nanoparticles can be incorporated into neurons and axons at the site of injury. Although, this study is at a very preliminary stage to explore the possibility of using magnetic nanoparticles for enhancing in vivo axon regeneration, this work may have significant implications for the treatment of spinal cord injuries, and is a vital "next step" in bringing this new technology to clinical use.
The second method, developed at the University of California, Berkeley, "uses aligned nanofibers containing one or more growth factors to provide a bioactive matrix where nerve cells can regrow."
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a technology that has the potential to serve as a better alternative than currently available synthetic nerve grafts. The graft material is composed entirely of aligned nanoscale polymer fibers. These polymer fibers act as physical guides for regenerating nerve fibers. They have also developed a way to make these aligned nanofibers bioactive by attaching various biochemicals directly onto the surfaces of the nanofibers. Thus, the bioactive aligned nanofiber technology mimics the nerve autograft by providing both physical and biochemical cues to enhance and direct nerve growth.

This technology has been tested by culturing rat nerve tissue ex vivo on our bioactive aligned nanofiber scaffolds. When the nerve tissue was cultured on unaligned nanofibers there was no nerve fiber growth onto the scaffolds. However, on aligned nanofiber scaffolds, they not only observed nerve fibers growing from the tissue but the nerve fibers were aligned in the same orientation as the nanofibers. Furthermore, when there were biochemicals present on the nanofibers, the nerve fiber growth was enhanced 5 fold. In a matter of just 5 days, nerve fibers had extended 4 millimeters from the nerve tissue in a bipolar fashion on the bioactive aligned nanofiber scaffolds. Thus, this technology can induce, enhance and direct nerve fiber regeneration in a straight and organized manner.
One can only sit in wonder at the countless applications that are being discovered for using nanotech to improve human lives. Stay tuned.

(Via BetterHumans)

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