Experts from Aberdeen University have discovered a new way to repair injured spinal nerves.
Scientists at the university have been able to successfully regrow spinal nerves in rats after activating a molecule found in nerve cells by using a new type of gel.
Dr Wenlong Huang, Dr Derryck Shewan and Dr Alba Guijarro-Belmar from Aberdeen University’s Institute of Medical Sciences found that triggering a molecule called Epac2 led to “significant improvement” in the growth of nerves that been severed during injury.
It is the first time that activating this molecule has been found to boost nerve growth in this way and the study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Dr Shewan said: “Adult spinal nerve cells have very limited ability to regrow which makes recovery from spinal cord injury very difficult.
“We knew that Epac2 molecules are important for nerve growth during embryonic development so it is logical that it may have the same effect on adult nerve cells – encourage them to regenerate.
“This is something that other researchers have tried around the world in many different ways, but we found that our method actually works and is also very efficient.”
Researchers involved in the study modelled human spinal cord injury in rat nerve cells in a dish. The treatment was delivered using hydrogel – a new dual-function technique that can carry a treatment to a specific area within the body and slowly release it. It also provides a physical scaffold to support injured nerves.
In another first, not only did the Epac2 molecules stimulate growth, the researchers also found it changed the internal environment at the injury site, making it more responsive to healing.
The hydrogel was then injected into rats with spinal injuries which proved a success, with the rodents showing improvements in their walking.