Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new method of treating brain and spinal cord injuries by injecting nanoparticles via an “EpiPen”.
Often with a spinal injury it is the inflammation itself, rather than the injury, that can result in paralysis. In trauma involving the central nervous system (which includes the brain and spine) the body's immune must break the blood-brain barrier which can allow overactive immune cells to enter the delicate and sensitive area. Often these cells can cause too much inflammation that can kill off neurons and damage nerve fibres resulting in a loss of feeling and paralysis.
However, the University’s team have now found a way to combat this by injecting nanoparticles that intercept the immune cells before they reach the injury, and re-direct them away from the spinal cord. The cells that do reach the spine have been reprogrammed by the nanoparticles to be pro-regenerative.
As opposed to previous attempts to stop over-inflammation with steroids such as methylprednisolone, there are no drugs involved with the new method; eliminating the sometimes painful complications and side effects that can accompany a pharmaceutical approach.
Research team leader Lonnie Shea said, “In this work we demonstrate that instead of overcoming an immune response, we can co-opt the immune response to work for us to promote the therapeutic response.”
While this research was specifically targeted at spinal injuries, the team hope it will also have many other applications in future.
“Hopefully, this technology could lead to new therapeutic strategies not only for patients with spinal cord injury but for those with various inflammatory diseases,” said Jonghyuck Park, who also worked on the project.