(Fort Detrick, Md.) - Researchers across the nation are exploring emerging technologies to treat spinal cord injury. A promising approach is the use of nanoridge scaffolding to guide and stimulate the regrowth of axons, the thin fibers reaching out from neurons to conduct nerve impulses.
The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center is playing a key role in coordinating projects into a unified effort that may lead one day to the ability to heal devastating paralysis injuries.
One congressional program funded through TATRC provides seed grants to scientists, engineers and clinicians from the Houston research community as they collaborate to apply nanotechnology to solve health issues.
Noted TATRC Director Col. Karl Friedl, "This program, the Alliance for NanoHealth [ANH], exemplifies TATRC's focus on getting everyone out of their individual funding boxes to advance promising efforts."
Dr. Jiming Bao at the University of Houston recently discussed his ANH-sponsored work on nano-engineered multichannel scaffolds to support axon regeneration.
Bao's team has successfully fabricated scaffolds and observed enhanced and guided axon growth on these surfaces. Their novel technique constructs three-dimensional scaffolds by rolling up membranes with nanopatterned surfaces printed on them.
Explained Bao, "Our approach enables us to create varying sizes and shapes of channels, ridges and grooves, and use a wide choice of materials, so we can tune the scaffold design for optimal neuron regeneration. Another advantage is that it is relatively easy to fabricate these scaffolds at a low cost."
A second ANH team, led by Dr. James Tour of Rice University, is exploring the use of nanotubes as scaffolds. The team is focusing on electrically conductive carbon nanomaterials.
According to Tour, combining conductive abilities with nanostructured scaffolds could lead to a synergy of electrical and biological stimulation that may better promote axonal growth and synapse formation. The team has successfully developed a nontoxic printing protocol for carbon nanomaterial patterns and demonstrated that graphene, a new material within the last five years, is compatible with neuronal cells for this use.
Tour also is working on a way to transport therapeutic small molecules and proteins across the blood brain barrier and blood spinal cord barrier. "Many neuroprotective drugs fail to work in a live model because they can't cross these barriers," he said. The team's development of water-soluble nanotubes for drug delivery has shown promise as a way to protect the stability of a drug while still enabling selective release at the target site.
Said Dr. Eugene Golanov, who manages TATRC's neuroscience portfolio, "Both of these projects are excellent examples of the cutting-edge, early-stage nanotechnology research that TATRC is supporting. This is a direction that could lead to significant treatment advances within the next 10 years."
For more on TATRC's neuroscience portfolio, visit www.tatrc.org .