Reversing Paralysis with a Restorative Gel

Monday, May 13, 2013

TAU researchers develop implant to regenerate nerves

Some parts of the body, like the liver, can regenerate themselves after damage. But others, such as our nervous system, are considered either irreparable or slow to recover, leaving thousands with a lifetime of pain, limited mobility, or even paralysis.

Now a team of Tel Aviv University researchers, including Dr. Shimon Rochkind of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Prof. Zvi Nevo of TAU’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, has invented a method for repairing damaged peripheral nerves. Through a biodegradable implant in combination with a newly-developed Guiding Regeneration Gel (GRG) that increases nerve growth and healing, the functionality of a torn or damaged nerve could ultimately be restored.

This innovative project is now gaining international recognition. Its initial successes were reported recently at several renowned scientific congresses, including the World Federation of Neurological Societies and the European Neurological Society. And the therapy, already tested in animal models, is only a few years away from clinical use, says Dr. Rochkind.

Like healing in the womb

A nerve is like an electrical cable. When severed or otherwise damaged, power can no longer be transferred and the cable loses its functionality. Similarly, a damaged nerve loses the ability to transfer signals for movement and feeling through the nervous system.

But Dr. Rochkind and Prof. Nevo found a way to breach the gap. In their method, two severed ends of a damaged nerve are reconnected by implanting a soft, biodegradable tube, which serves as a bridge to help the nerve ends connect. The innovative gel which lines the inside of the tube nurtures nerve fibers’ growth, encouraging the nerve to reconnect the severed ends through the tube, even in cases with massive nerve damage, Dr. Rochkind says.

The key lies in the composition of the gel, the researchers say, which has three main components: anti-oxidants, which exhibit high anti-inflammatory activities; synthetic laminin peptides, which act as a railway or track for the nerve fibers to grow along; and hyaluronic acid, commonly found in the human fetus, which serves as a buffer against drying, a major danger for most implants. These components allow the nerve to heal the way a fetus does in the womb — quickly and smoothly.

Keeping cells safe for transplant

The implant has already been tested in animal models, and the gel by itself can be used as a stand-alone product, acting as an aid to cell therapy. GRG is not only able to preserve cells, it can support their survival while being used for therapy and transplantation, says Dr. Rochkind. When grown in the gel, cells show excellent development, as well as intensive fiber growth. This could have implications for the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s, for which researchers are actively exploring cell therapy as a potential solution.

First signs of heart disease seen in newborns of overweight/obese mums

Contact: Stephanie Burns sburns@bmjgroup.com 44-020-738-36920 BMJ-British Medical Journal

Artery wall thickening already present at birth

The walls of the body’s major artery – the aorta – are already thickened in babies born to mums who are overweight or obese, finds a small study published online in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease of Childhood.

Importantly, this arterial thickening, which is a sign of heart disease, is independent of the child’s weight at birth – a known risk factor for later heart disease and stroke.

And it may explain how overweight/obese mums could boost their children’s subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease, suggest the authors, who point out that more than half of women of childbearing age in developed countries are overweight or obese.

Twenty three women, whose average age was 35, were included in the study when they were 16 weeks pregnant.

A body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 kg/m2 was defined as overweight or obese, and this ranged from 17 to 42 kg/m2 among the women.

Ten of the babies born were boys, and birthweights ranged from 1850g to 4310g.

The abdominal aorta, which is the section of the artery extending down to the belly, was scanned in each newborn within seven days of birth to find out the thickness of the two innermost walls – the intima and media.

Intima-media thickness ranged from 0.65mm to 0.97mm, and was associated with the mother’s weight. The higher a mum’s weight, the greater was the baby’s intima-media thickness, irrespective of how much the baby weighed at birth.

The difference in intima-media thickness between babies of overweight and normal weight mums was 0.06mm.

“The earliest physical signs of atherosclerosis are present in the abdominal aorta, and aortic intima-media thickness is considered the best non-invasive measure of structural health of the vasculature in children,” write the authors.

And this may explain how a mum being overweight might affect her child’s subsequent risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, they conclude.

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[Maternal adiposity and newborn vascular health Online First doi 10.1136/archdischild-2012-303566]

Exposure to low doses of BPA ( within 12 Hours ) alters gene expression in the fetal mouse ovary

Contact: Patricia A. Hunt pathunt@wsu.edu 509-335-4954 Society for the Study of Reproduction

Significant changes in gene expression in the fetal ovary are evident in female mice whose mothers are exposed to low doses of bisphenol A

A study posted today (Wednesday, August 25) at the online site of the journal Biology of Reproduction reports that exposure of pregnant female mice to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A may produce adverse reproductive consequences on gene expression in fetal ovaries as early as 12 hours after the mother has first been exposed to the chemical.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in plastics for making some baby and water bottles, linings of food and beverage cans, and other human consumer products.

The mice in this study were given BPA at doses thought to be equivalent to levels currently being experienced by humans.

The research, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Patricia A. Hunt at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, showed that BPA exposure affects the earliest stages of egg production in the ovaries of the developing mouse fetuses, thus suggesting that the next generation (the grandchildren of the females given BPA) may suffer genetic defects in such biological processes as mitosis and DNA replication.

In addition, the WSU research team noted that their study “revealed a striking down-regulation of mitotic/cell cycle genes, raising the possibility that BPA exposure immediately before meiotic entry might act to shorten the reproductive lifespan of the female” by reducing the total pool of fetal oocytes.

Future studies in Dr. Hunt’s laboratory will focus on genetic changes produced over a range of BPA exposure

Foetus suffers when mother lacks vitamin C

Healthy pregnancy

Maternal vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the foetal brain. And once brain damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed by vitamin C supplements after birth. This is shown through new research at the University of Copenhagen just published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

vitamin C supplements are important during pregnancy.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons af Tom & Katrien.

Population studies show that between 10-20 per cent of all adults in the developed world suffer from vitamin C deficiency. Therefore, pregnant women should think twice about omitting the daily vitamin pill.

“Even marginal vitamin C deficiency in the mother stunts the foetal hippocampus, the important memory centre, by 10-15 per cent, preventing the brain from optimal development,” says Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt. He heads the group of scientists that reached this conclusion by studying pregnant guinea pigs and their pups. Just like humans, guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C themselves, which is why they were chosen as the model.

“We used to think that the mother could protect the baby. Ordinarily there is a selective transport from mother to foetus of the substances the baby needs during pregnancy. However, it now appears that the transport is not sufficient in the case of vitamin C deficiency. Therefore it is extremely important to draw attention to this problem, which potentially can have serious consequences for the children affected,” says Jens Lykkesfeldt.

Too late when damage is done

The new results sharpen the focus on the mother’s lifestyle and nutritional status during pregnancy. The new study has also shown that the damage done to the foetal brain cannot be repaired, even if the baby is given vitamin C after birth.
When the vitamin C deficient guinea pig pups were born, scientists divided them into two groups and gave one group vitamin C supplements. However, when the pups were two months old, which corresponds to teenage in humans, there was still no improvement in the group that had been given supplements.
The scientists are now working to find out how early in the pregnancy vitamin C deficiency influences the development of foetal guinea pigs. Preliminary results show that the impact is already made early in the pregnancy, as the foetuses were examined in the second and third trimesters. Scientists hope in the long term to be able to use population studies to illuminate the problem in humans.

Vulnerable groups

There are some groups that may be particularly vulnerable of vitamin C deficiency:
“People with low economic status who eat poorly – and perhaps also smoke – often suffer from vitamin C deficiency. Comparatively speaking, their children risk being born with a poorly developed memory potential. These children may encounter learning problems, and seen in a societal context, history repeats itself because these children find it more difficult to escape the environment into which they are born,” says Jens Lykkesfeldt.
He emphasises that if pregnant women eat a varied diet, do not smoke, and for instance take a multi-vitamin tablet daily during pregnancy, there is no reason to fear vitamin C deficiency.
“Because it takes so little to avoid vitamin C deficiency, it is my hope that both politicians and the authorities will become aware that this can be a potential problem,” concludes Jens Lykkesfeldt.

Read the article in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Contact

Professor Jens Lykkesfeldt, Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Biomedicine
Phone: +45 35333125