Scientists have succeeded in regenerating the severed nerves of rats using a specially designed bioadhesive.
The gel, made from pigs’ bladder cells interlaced with molecules found in the regenerated limbs of Mexican walking fish, could become a breakthrough method for repairing damaged nerves and spinal cord injuries in humans.
A biomedical engineer and the lead inventor of the bioadhesive, Helder Marcal, said there was currently no way to regenerate injured nerves.
”You can stitch a nerve together but that would not give you recovery or regeneration and most of the time a patient will lose the capacity to move that limb,” Dr Helder, from the recently launched Australian Centre for Nanomedicine at the University of NSW, said.
As part of the study, the researchers applied the laser-activated bioadhesive to the severed sciatic nerve of adult rats.
After a week, new cells began to grow and bridge the gap between the two nerves, and by six weeks the nerve had fully repaired and the rodents regained partial function of their limbs, he said.
The bioadhesive gel works by mimicking the biological regeneration process used by Mexican walking fish, which are able to regenerate entire organs and limbs.
When the team studied the regenerated limbs of the fish they found molecules, known as neurotrophic factors, that induce stem cell growth, Dr Helder said.
These molecules provide the right environment for regeneration, and are the key ingredient in the gel, Dr Helder said. He presented his research at the 2011 International Nanomedicine Conference in Coogee last month.
While scientists around the world have been able to inject stem cells into patients with spinal cord injuries, the nerves had not regenerated.
”What we’ve done is provide the micro-environmental factors which optimise cell growth and tissue regeneration,” he said.
The bioadhesive would replace the need for sutures and reduce risk of wound infections.
The team have begun trials on large animals and hope to begin human trials in two years.