ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: July 20, 2016

Hydrogel scaffold helps repair injured spinal cord

"Three-Dimensional Nanofiber Hybrid Scaffold Directs and Enhances Axonal Regeneration After Spinal Cord Injury"
ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering

Spinal cord injuries can be devastating because the damaged nerves do not regenerate on their own, which often leads to permanent impairment. Scientists have been investigating methods to encourage regrowth, but so far there are no treatments that reliably restore nerve function. Now, a group reports in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering a strategy that regrows nerve cells and restores motor function in rats with spinal cord injuries.

The current thinking is that if nerves could be encouraged to regrow past the site of a spinal cord injury, permanent disability could be prevented, according to the researchers. One possible strategy involves implanting biomaterial scaffolds at the injury site that could support new tissue growth. However, these scaffolds often fail to direct nerve regrowth past the location of the injury because it is difficult to control the direction of nerve growth, and scars can form around the implant, blocking the nerves. Thus, Sing Yian Chew and colleagues set out to design a new type of scaffold that could help nerve cells regrow and restore function.

The group combined a hydrogel with aligned nanofibers to create a scaffold with a 3-D structure that can be implanted at the injury site. They also tested whether adding neurotrophin-3, a protein that encourages nerve growth, to the scaffold would help. After three months in the spinal cords of injured rats, the scaffolds — especially those laced with neurotrophin-3 — had successfully encouraged nerve growth without inciting inflammation or scarring. Rats with the neurotrophin-3 scaffolds regained more motor function than those without treatment. The researchers say that these findings show that their scaffold design could someday serve as a guide for nerve regeneration techniques to treat spinal cord injuries in humans.

The researchers acknowledge funding from the National Research Foundation Singapore under its Cooperative Basic Research Grant administered by Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council and the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund.

Researchers have developed a hydrogel scaffold that could someday be used to treat spinal injuries in patients.
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