A hydrogel formulated to help repair damaged spinal nerves helped restore independent breathing in rat models of spinal cord injury, note researchers from Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) in a recent study.
“The hydrogel can deliver a neuron-stimulating agent that repairs a critical aspect of spinal cord damage, while avoiding systemic side effects of the agent,” says co-senior researcher Angelo Lepore, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience in the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience at Jefferson, in a media release from Thomas Jefferson University.
“We looked specifically at the bundle of nerves that control breathing. Our preliminary work in animal models could lead to new treatments in the future for patients suffering from respiratory compromise, and may also apply to restoring other functions affected by the injury.”
The study was published recently in The Journal for Neuroscience.
Lepore, along with Yinghui Zhong, PhD, a collaborator from Drexel University, developed a gel that binds to the neuro-stimulating agent BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and releases this nerve-repair protein at the site of injury.
The researchers looked specifically at the bundle called the phrenic nerve that specifically controls the diaphragm—the muscle that primarily controls the rhythmic inflation of the lungs.
They saw a 60% to 70% improvement in breathing control as measured by diaphragm-muscle contraction in rats that received the BDNF gel after spinal cord injury, the release explains.
Looking at the changes at the cellular level, the researchers observed two ways the BDNF-gel protected or helped maintain the brain-to-spine-to-diaphragm connection. The long phrenic nerves, with one end of the cell sitting at the spinal cord and the other end touching, or innervating, the diaphragm muscle, would sometime release their connection to the muscle when the other end of the nerve was damaged at the spinal column.
Lepore and colleagues showed that the gel helped nerves reconnect, or protected these nerves from releasing in response to the damage.
Another set of nerves travels from the brain to the spinal column to help set and maintain the rhythmic control of inhalation. Those nerves can also be damaged during injury.
Lepore and colleagues showed that the BDNF gel helped regrow the nerves that connected the rhythm-control center of the brain with the spine and ultimately the diaphragm muscle, the release continues.
“Although there are yet other types of damage that can occur during spinal cord injury, it’s encouraging to see this gel improve two extremely important mechanisms by which breathing control is lost,” Lepore shares.
The researchers plan to continue the work by exploring the ideal timing and dosing for applying the biogel. Specifically, they would assess whether it could work in instances where treatment isn’t immediately available after injury. They are also interested in exploring whether the approach could protect or regrow other types of nerves, and help patients retain more functionality, the release concludes.
[Source(s): Thomas Jefferson University, Science Daily]