Every year, tens of millions of Americans suffer from nerve damage, some irreparably so. Science can heal bones, grow new organs and even restore our microbiomes, but why is it so hard to fix our nerves? Hey guys Lissette here for DNews The human body posses a remarkable ability to heal. Bones refuse, skin wounds mend, and the immune system adapts to infection, after infection. But there’s one area of the body that struggles to recover after an injury: The nervous system. Nerve damage can be some of the most debilitating and permanent type of injury.
The nervous system is an incredibly complex network used to send electrical information throughout your body. It can basically be divided into two sections. With the brain and spinal cord making up the central nervous system or CNSâ€¦. and the nerves made up of fibers of sensory and motor neurons comprising the peripheral nervous system. Each cell in the nervous system from the tip of your finger up your arm, up your spinal column, into your brain, is very specialized. And each has a unique function on the pathway, like a circuit. If one these gets cut or injured, it’s hard for an exact replacement cell to be put in in the right spot. Think about when you get a cut on your skin. If the cut.
Goes deep enough, exact replicas of cells won’t cover the wound, instead fibrous tissues form. which we call scars. And scars are part of the problem in regrowing nerves, they often get in the way especially in the case of spinal cord injuries. As part of the CNS, spinal cord injuries are notoriously difficult to heal; partially because of the way nerve cells in the CNS are made. According to the book, â€œResults and Problems in Cell Differentiationâ€�, the CNS also has certain proteins that weirdly, inhibit cell regeneration. While this might sound like a bad idea, it’s hugely beneficial overall to the formation of the CNS. These cells need.
To grow exactly where they are supposed to, just one out of place could be bad. Like. think of an electrical circuit, each unit has to be in a specific order in specific place to work. If one is out of place, the integrity of the CNS is compromised. Neurons in the CNS also lack certain cleaning cells. Nerve cells are made up of many parts, but they send signals through threads covered in a protective sheet of myelin. These threads are called axons. Axons are the long part of the cell that reaches out to the cell next to it to send information down the line. Like arms handing the bucket down the line in a bucket brigade. So these are obviously super important and need protecting. That’s.
Where the Schwann cells come in. which are only found in the Peripheral nervous system. Schwann cells, which aren’t neurons but GLEEL cells, produce the myelin that help protect the axons. But, a study published in The Journal of Cell Biology found they also clean up damaged nerves making way for the healing process to take place and new nerves to be formed. But the problem is. these Schwann cells are missing from the CNS. What they have instead are myelin producing cells called oligodendrocytes. But these cells don’t clean up damaged nerve cells at all. Which is part of the problem. So unfortunately, according to Richard G. Fessler professor at Rush University Medical.
Center quot;There are currently no therapies which successfully reverse the damagequot; from injuries to the spinal cord. But research is currently underway to examine the potential success of stem cell treatment, where stem cells are injected directly at the injury site. Still, it will take a few years to see the results of such trials. But there are times your body can regenerate nerves. The peripheral nervous system doesn’t have the same blocking proteins that the CNS has, and Schwann cells help heal the damage. So it’s able to regrow nerves, albeit slowly. For instance, if you cut a nerve into your shoulder, it could take a year to regrow. By that time.the muscles in your arms could.
Become atrophied. So, not surprisingly, researchers are working on helping the body heal faster. One study published in the Journal of al Investigation found that a shock of heat made the peripheral nerves grow faster. In another study published in the journal Advanced Functional MATERIALS, researchers used 3D printing to make a sort of guide for peripheral nerves to follow as they regrew. The guide was built with small physical grooves and even chemical cues to help guide the nerve along its new path. But, to learn more about other research into repairing spinal cord injuries, check out.
Helping the body regrow nerves Science Nation
Â™«MUSICâ™« MILES O’BRIEN: Combat, cancer and accidents all can cause devastating nerve injuries. Sometimes, the body heals on its own. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: Your peripheral nerves are the ones in the arms and the face, have an inherent ability to regenerate but only under ideal circumstances. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National Science.
Foundation, University of Florida Biomedical Engineer Christine Schmidt is working to restore nerve function when injuries are more complicated. SURGEON: Took that muscle and rotated it, took it over the back of his elbow to cover â€“ MILES O’BRIEN: Surgeons can sometimes move a nerve from one part of a patient’s body to another. Schmidt has developed a method that grafts cadaver tissue onto the damaged area to.
Act as a scaffold for nerves to regrow themselves. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: Basically what we’re doing is removing all the cellular material that would cause rejection but leave behind the native architectures. You’re putting this graft into the site of injury. And now, that graft is providing a scaffold for your blood vessels to grow in. And then once you have that recellerization your nerve fibers can then regrow, so then, ultimately regain that muscle function.
MILES O’BRIEN: Navy Veteran Edward Bonfiglio, wounded in Afghanistan, faced the prospect of an amputation. A graft was a welcome option. The company, AxoGen, distributes the grafts, which were developed based on work done in Schmidt’s lab. JILL SCHIAPARELLI: And his family pressed the s to say, quot;Are there any alternatives?quot; He was a young, healthy, vibrant guy. And they had a great surgeon at Walter Reed who was willing to work with them to find those options.
CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: This is some of the micronized nerve that you’re working with. MILES O’BRIEN: Schmidt and her team are also looking at other approaches to directly stimulate nerve growth using natural sugar molecules found in the body as building blocks, eliminating the need to transplant tissue. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: So you don’t have to actually take it from somebody’s body. You can grow it.
MILES O’BRIEN: While the ultimate goal in nerve regeneration is reversing paralysis, Schmidt says intermediate successes, like improving lung or bladder function, can be invaluable to patients and their families. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: So rather than saying we’re going to try to tackle this humongously complex beast and try to get the patient to necessarily be exactly like they were before, why not provide some function that will have merit.
To this patient. MILES O’BRIEN: So after a serious injury, it’s not just about getting your nerve back. It’s growing it back. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.