Two groups to conduct the research. One at the Center for Cooperative Research in Biomaterials in Spain and one at ISAS, International School of Advanced Studies in Italy.
The team demonstrated that functional carbon nanotube materials facilitate the reconnection of neuronal networks damaged as a result of spinal cord injury.
I study, published by the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), is a huge step forward in research geared towards recovery from injuries of this type.
A systematic review
The research groups are led in Spain by professor Maurizio Prato, president of CIC biomaGUNE (world reference in carbon-based nanomaterials) and in Italy by professor Laura Ballerini. Both are experienced in the use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials to repair neural lesions of the spinal cord.
Collaboration between the groups has shown that carbon nanotube-based biomaterials facilitate communication between neurons, neuronal growth and the establishment of connections using materials of this type.
Impossible results just a few years ago
The electrical and mechanical properties of this material allow for many applications unthinkable for any other material.
In particular, the interaction of excitable cells, such as nerve and heart cells, makes carbon nanotubes of great relevance. Communication between cells increases when they are interfaced with carbon nanotubes. And today it is also possible to build mechanically stable structures that support nerve growth.
The groups of Prato and Ballerini had already demonstrated the formation of neuronal connections in in vitro systems in cell cultures. The leap to an in vivo animal model of spinal cord injury still remained.
It is necessary to verify the possibility of seeing if the communications between the single neurons would have produced functional results.
Repair spinal cord injuries with nanomaterials
In this latest breakthrough, the researchers showed that in animals with partial spinal cord injury, implantation of nanomaterials gradually re-establishes the reconnection of fibers.
It is a kind of carbon nanotube sponge made up of intertwined fibers. The nerves reconnect in the area where they were damaged and the animals regain functionality, especially those of the limbs, the most affected by the injury. also demonstrated that the material is biocompatible: no immune reaction was detected.
A great hope
For the scientists, this significant breakthrough constitutes “hope for the future in terms of further recovery from injuries of this type of spinal cord, optic nerve, or even some type of traumatic injury in which neuronal connection has been lost and mobility a limb is affected. "
While it will take some time for their research to find clinical application, the milestone is on the horizon today.
The next steps
The research was conducted under highly controlled conditions, just like any laboratory study. For this it is necessary to progress with many other scenarios.
For example, it is crucial to thoroughly explore the microstructural and mechanical properties of the material, i.e. the properties that facilitate neuronal connection, thus preventing possible side effects or even rejection of the material itself.
It will also be seen if these results are confirmed in other animal models with less neuronal plasticity.
One of the main aspects of this reconnection process, however, is to find out if the same connections that existed before the injury are restored or if neuronal plasticity occurs.
In other words, if new connections are established that did not previously exist and the nervous system looks for another way to reconnect by adapting to the new situation.
In summary: we are far from being able to transfer this method to man. It shows all the characteristics of being transferable, has been shown to work, to be effective and not to cause adverse reactions in animal models.