Nanoscience Could Shape Spinal Cord Injury Care

Category: Spinal Cord Injury | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: September 18, 2017

Spinal Cord Injury Surgery

A spinal cord injury is similar to an earthquake in a couple of aspects. A large amount of damage is done at the moment of injury or during the main earthquake, but damage also comes later. With an earthquake, more damage occurs during aftershocks, while in the spine, secondary damage can be caused by inflammation or internal scarring, which prevents the nervous system from being able to repair itself correctly.

We can’t always prevent the acute injury, but medical experts believe that by limiting the amount of inflammation and internal scarring that occurs, we can limit the amount of damage to the spine. We may be on the verge of preventing these secondary issues through advancements in the field of nanoscience.

Nanoparticle Breakthrough

According to researchers at the University of Northwestern, we may soon be able to inject a biodegradable nanoparticle into the spinal cord after an acute injury to reduce problems caused by secondary responses to injury like scarring and inflammation. The research, conducted on mice, found that rodents injected with the nanoparticle were able to walk better after the injury than those who didn’t receive the injection.

Researchers said that while it isn’t a cure to spinal cord injuries, it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s not a cure. There is still the original damage, but we were able to prevent the secondary damage,” said co-senior author Dr. Jack Kessler, a professor of neurology at Northwestern University. “It’s an exciting potential treatment. We really believe this is something we’ll be able to take to the clinic.”

Researchers hope to continue their study of the nanoparticle in other populations, but they are cautiously optimistic, noting that there haven’t been any signs of toxicity in mice populations so far.

The nanoparticle works by binding to cells that cause inflammation after an injury. These cells, called inflammatory monocytes, are instead diverted to the spleen. Not only does this prevent inflammation, but because inflammation results in additional inflammatory blood cells to be diverted to the area, which in turn can disrupt the area and result in cell death and scar tissue formation, the nanoparticle can prevent scar tissue from developing.

“The new treatment is unusual because it is potentially immediately translatable to human beings,” said Kessler. “All we have to do is literally inject these beads into the bloodstream. It doesn’t require surgery or any fancy intervention.”

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

If the future studies show promise, Kessler believes hospitals and trauma centers could be stocked with syringes full of the nanoparticle to administer in the event of a spinal cord injury.

“An emergency medical technician at the site of an accident or somebody in an emergency room when someone is brought in can give this injection immediately,” concluded Kessler.

It’s promising research, and hopefully future studies work as well as they did in mice. We’ll certainly keep our eyes on the future of these nanoparticles going forward.

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