Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a scaffolding technology that could lead to hope for people with nerve damage by promoting the growth of new connections between neurons in the brain, with potential treatments for common neurodegenerative disorders as well as brain and central nervous system injuries.
The methodology, reported in the December 11 issue of Advanced Materials, shows that by lacing a series of polymer scaffolds with acetylcholine that nerve growth could be promoted to make new connections with adjacent brain cells.
“Regeneration in the central nervous system requires neural activity, not just neuronal growth factors alone, so we thought a neurotransmitter might send the necessary signals,” said Yadong Wang in a press release from Georgia Technical Institute, assistant professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and principal investigator of the study.
The team led by Wang developed a new biodegradable polymer with a flexible backbone, which they laced with acetylcholine, one of the most common neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. Neurotransmitters are the chemical “signals” used in the central nervous system to send messages from one cell to another. The scaffold of polymers were added to damaged nerves and studied in a test tube environment, and found to have grown new neurites (the connecting sections of neurons).
Damaged neurons rarely spontaneously grow new neurites in adults, and have difficulty penetrating scar tissue formed by an injury. Wang and his team are hopeful that this methodology will lead to a means of bridging the gap between damaged neurons, and lead to therapies for both brain injuries and neurological disorders.
Common neurological disorders are Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and Parkinson Disease. Most neurological disorders involve either the breakage of connections between neurons, or a short circuit in the pathway between them. By bridging these gaps, or creating new connections, scientists are hopeful to develop a cure, or at least an effective therapy to relieve their symptoms.
The team is continuing its work, expanding the scope and studying how the neurites and neurotransmitters interact with the polymer, and looking at potential surgical implantations. “This polymer and approach aren’t limited to nerve regeneration though, they can probably be used for other neurodegenerative disorders as well,” Wang said.
Work was funded by a combination of grants from Georgia Tech, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Christiane Gumera, a graduate student under Wang’s supervision, co-authored the paper in Advanced Materials.