Led by Canada’s University of British Columbia’s Dr John Madden (pictured), the 'Mend the Gap: A Transformative Biomaterials Platform for Spinal Cord Repair' project will focus on repairing the gap which forms when the spine is broken.
"This gap blocks nerve impulses, leading to health issues such as paralysis, loss of blood pressure, bladder and bowel control, sexual dysfunction, and chronic pain." says John.
Repairing the spinal cord is difficult because of scar tissue or lesion, so a soft gel created by the global team will contain drugs that modify the tissue and revive nerve fibres.
The team’s approach brings together chemists, physicists, neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians to develop the biomaterial or gel platform which will be injected through a fine needle into the spinal cord, filling and conforming to the complex shape of each unique lesion. The delivery mechanism—a machine vision-guided robotic procedure—will use novel multimodal imaging techniques to provide structural information about the lesion and avoid damaging any remaining tissue structures.
Once the gel platform is in the body, magnetic fields will be used to produce ordered microchannels that guide the nerve axons and endogenous cells, to bridge the lesion site. The hosted drugs in the gel will biochemically incentivize nerves to continue growing in a particular direction. Other drugs will simultaneously block inhibitory pathways such as scar formation and growth inhibitors. Electrical stimulation protocols will be used to encourage growth and facilitate functional reconnection to spinal neuronal networks.
The ‘Mend the Gap’ team is composed of 12 academic institutions and 3 non-profit and charitable organizations from five countries, each contributing key expertise.
The multidisciplinary and international team involves UOW's Professor Gordon Wallace, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, who leads the Australian part of the team.
He has been involved in spinal cord injury treatment research for decades and says the Mend the Gap project could really change lives within the next five years.
"I don't expect a miraculous cure, but I do think we can get real outcomes for those with simpler injuries that will make a significant difference in the quality of life." Prof Wallace said.
Success from this project will mean preparation for human trials after 5-6 years, but for the duration of this project, the international team will build on technologies that enable aligning and patterning of biomaterials in vivo, and develop a more thorough understanding of the influence of these injected materials on cellular growth processes.
"That success would provide us, and others, with a platform of knowledge to tackle even more complex injuries, such as helping people to walk after being paralysed.”
Read More: https://mendthegap.ubc.ca/
Follow the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science on Twitter: @ARC_ACES