AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 3, 2019

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Nanoparticles promote functional healing following spinal cord injury

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Paralyzing damage in spinal cord injury (SCI) is often caused by the zealous immune response to the injury. NIBIB-funded engineers have developed nanoparticles that lure immune cells away from the spinal cord, allowing regeneration that restored spinal cord function in mice.

Just as in the brain, the spinal cord has a blood brain barrier that protects the delicate nerves from potential damage from various insults, including blocking immune cells from moving in to clean up debris from the injury.

When the spinal cord suffers a traumatic injury, the blood brain barrier is damaged, and the rapid influx of immune cells creates an environment that aims to quickly shore-up the injury, yet also inhibits regenerative processes that can successfully rebuild and reconnect delicate damaged nerves.

Now NIBIB-grantee Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., the Steven A Goldstein Collegiate Professor, Biomedical engineering, and his colleagues at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have developed a strategy that redirects many immune cells away from the injury while also inducing those that do reach the SCI to switch to an anti-inflammatory profile, producing factors that foster a regenerative healing process, which can preserve function.

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