Nanostructures a Key to Curing Some Paralysis?

Originally Published MDDI March 2004R&D DIGEST Erik Swain

March 1, 2004

2 Min Read
Nanostructures a Key to Curing Some Paralysis?

Originally Published MDDI March 2004


Erik Swain

A scanning electron micrograph of an artificial three-dimensional network of nanofibers used to grow nerve cells.

A technique for regrowing nerve cells could lead to the reversal of paralysis caused by spinal cord injury. 

A group of scientists at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) successfully grew nerve cells using an artificial three-dimensional network of nanofibers. 

When an aqueous solution of peptide amphiphile molecules is mixed with cell media on a glass cover slip, the molecules self-assemble into nanofibers.

“We have created new materials that because of their chemical structure interact with cells of the central nervous system in ways that may help prevent the formation of scar tissue that is often linked to paralysis after spinal cord injury,” said Samuel I. Stupp, the Northwestern professor who led the research team. “We have shown that our scaffold selectively and rapidly directs cell differentiation, driving neural progenitor cells to become neurons and not astrocytes. Astrocytes are a major problem in spinal cord injury because they lead to scarring and act as a barrier to neuron repair.”

The scaffold contains nanofibers formed by peptide amphiphile molecules. The scientists designed the amphiphiles to self-assemble in a certain way on the scaffold. On the outer surfaces, they were able to get a specific sequence of five amino acids known to promote neuron growth to assemble in great density.

In a later experiment, the team was able to inject the peptide amphiphile solution to the site of a spinal cord injury in a laboratory rat. The solution was transformed into a solid scaffold upon contact with the tissue.

The findings have been published in the on-line version of the journal Science. Funding came from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Stupp's collaborators include John A. Kessler, Gabriel A. Silva, Catherine Czeisler, Krista L. Niece, Ella Beniash, and Daniel Harrington, all of Northwestern.

Copyright ©2004 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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