Technology & Science

Nanotechnology used to treat spinal cord injuries

Paralyzed lab mice with spinal cord injuries have regained the ability to walk after being injected with a nanomaterial, a scientific conference heard Monday.

Paralyzed lab mice with spinal cord injuries have regained the ability to walk after being injected with a nanomaterial, a scientific conference heard Monday.

The research raises hope that nanotechnology might be used in treating degenerative illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, according to Samuel Stupp, aNorthwestern University professor who presented his findings at a session hosted by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in Washington.

"By injecting molecules that were designed to self-assemble into nanostructures in the spinal tissue, we have been able to rescue and regrow rapidly damaged neurons," he said in a statement.

"The nanofibres ... are the key to not only preventing the formation of harmful scar tissue which inhibits spinal cord healing, but to stimulating the body into regenerating lost or damaged cells," said Stupp, director of the Institute for Bionanotechnology in Medicine at Northwestern.

Nanotechnology is the applied science of manipulating and controlling matter at a scale below 100 nanometres, or in the range of 1/100,000th the width of a human hair.

Stupp said he and his co-workers have designed molecules with the capacity to self-assemble into nanofibres once injected into the body with a syringe.

He said the work could eventually be used to help cure degenerative illnesses and help repair or regenerate damaged cells.

Early testing urged

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies also issued a report Monday suggesting the future of nanotechnology would be in providing better medical treatments and providing clean water and energy.

The report, NanoFrontiers: Visions of the Future of Nanotechnology, said the industry would need to focus on acquiring better tools to view nanoscales, manage the information and create the materials.

It also suggested early testing to ensure nanomaterials are safe for public use.

"Many future surprises might be avoided by carefully testing nanomaterials up front in order to gauge their toxicities and to predict how easily they could spread in water, air and soil," the report said.

"We, as a society, could then choose to work with the new materials that appear most useful and benign and to avoid the riskier ones."

A UN report released in February at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum called for more research in nanotechnology to identify environmental, health and socio-economic hazards.