University Of Limerick Demonstrates Novel Spinal Cord Tissue Healing Method

A recent study developed new hybrid biomaterials in the form of nanoparticles to support healing and regeneration after spinal cord injury.

Varun Verma
Written by: Varun VermaUpdated at: Nov 30, 2022 14:13 IST
University Of Limerick Demonstrates Novel Spinal Cord Tissue Healing Method

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Significant progress has been made in the research of spinal cord tissue repair according to a recent study from the University of Limerick’s Bernal Institute, which was published in the prestigious international journal Biomaterials Research.

The researchers of the University of Limerick in Ireland developed new hybrid biomaterials in the form of nanoparticles based on current tissue engineering techniques to support healing and regeneration after spinal cord injury.

About the Study

The University of Limerick team, led by Professor Maurice N. Collins, Associate Professor, School of Engineering and lead author Aleksandra Serafin, a PhD candidate, used a novel electrically conducting polymer composite and a new kind of scaffolding material to encourage the growth and generation of new tissue that may help in the treatment of spinal cord injury.

According to Professor Collins, a spinal cord injury is still among the most debilitating and life-altering injuries that a person can experience in their lifetime. Currently, there is no widely available treatment for spinal cord injury. So ongoing research is essential to find a cure and enhance the quality of life for patients. The research field is now focusing on tissue engineering for cutting-edge treatment approaches.

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The research team reports a rise in interest in electroconductive tissue-engineered scaffolds, which they attribute to cells' enhanced growth and proliferation when exposed to conductive scaffolds.

Aleksandra Serafin, the lead author and a PhD candidate in the Bernal and at the University of Limerick’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, explained that increasing the conductivity of biomaterials to create such treatment strategies typically centres on the addition of conductive elements like carbon nanotubes or conductive polymers like PEDOT: PSS, which is a commercially available conductive polymer that has been used thus far in the tissue engineering field.

Unfortunately, employing the PEDOT:PSS polymer in biological applications still has significant constraints. Although the polymer depends on the PSS component to be water soluble, it exhibits poor biocompatibility when implanted in the body.

This indicates that the body may experience toxic or immunological reactions after coming into contact with this polymer, which are not ideal for a damaged tissue that is to be restored. This severely restricts which hydrogel ingredients can be successfully used to make conductive scaffolds, stated Serafin.

To overcome this restriction, new PEDOT nanoparticles (NPs) were produced for the study. Without the need for PSS, which is necessary for water solubility, the synthesis of conductive PEDOT NPs enables the targeted alteration of the NPS surface to produce desired cell response and improve the diversity of which hydrogel components can be added.

In this study, innovative PEDOT NPs were coupled with hybrid biomaterials made of gelatin and immunomodulatory hyaluronic acid, a substance created by Professor Collins over many years at UL, to make biocompatible electroconductive scaffolds for targeted spinal cord damage repair.

Extensive research on the structure, property, and function relationships of these precisely designed scaffolds for improved performance at the site of injury was conducted, along with in-vivo research using rat spinal cord injury models by Ms. Serafin during a Fulbright research exchange to the University of California San Diego Neuroscience Department, a collaborator on the project.

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The conductivity of samples was improved by adding PEDOT NPs to the biomaterial. Additionally, in tissue-engineered strategies, the mechanical characteristics of implanted materials should resemble the tissue of interest. According to the researchers, the developed PEDOT NP scaffolds match the mechanical characteristics of the native spinal cord.

Findings of the Study

According to the study, testing revealed increased axonal cell migration towards the spinal cord injury location where the PEDOT NP scaffold was inserted as well as lower levels of scarring and inflammation than in the injury model without a scaffold.

According to the research team, these findings demonstrate the potential of these materials for spinal cord repair.

Studies have revealed that motor neurons tend to have a higher excitability threshold near the distal end of a spinal cord injury. The design of the scaffold will be further improved in a subsequent project, and the scaffold will have conductivity gradients with conductivity increasing toward the distal end of the lesion to further encourage neuronal regeneration, Serafin added.

Image Credits: freepik

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