Magazine article Science News

Networking with Friends: Nanotech Material Reconnects Severed Neurons

Magazine article Science News

Networking with Friends: Nanotech Material Reconnects Severed Neurons

Article excerpt

A new material made of nanometer-size protein particles appears to be capable of bridging the gap between severed nerves. The finding could lead to an effective early treatment for spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, or strokes--conditions that affect millions of people worldwide.

When these injuries damage the long arms, or axons, that join neurons, the surrounding cells form scar tissue in the fissure. This blocks neural connections. Few therapies have been successful in reinstating these lost connections in people, says Rutledge G. Ellis-Behnke, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"What our research looks at is how to restore quality of life to these people" he says. "It may be as simple as being able to reconnect these disconnects in the brain."

Seeking such reconnections, the scientists designed a synthetic chemical to act as a temporary scaffold to support neurons as they grow extensions across the gaps in severed axons. This material, which the team named the self-assembling peptide nanofiber scaffold (SAPNS), is made up of particles of protein. The material forms a mesh when mixed with the fluid that permeates the brain.

Ellis-Behnke's team tested SAPNS on damaged nerves in hamsters. The researchers first severed one of each animal's optic nerves, rendering all the hamsters blind in one eye. Immediately following this operation, some of the animals received an injection of the scaffold material where the nerve was severed. …

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