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Nanotechnology May Be Used to Regenerate Tissues, Organs

May 2, 2007

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Research at Northwestern University has shown that a combination of nanotechnology and biology may enable damaged tissues and organs to heal themselves.

In a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC last week, Samuel I. Stupp, board of trustees professor of materials science, chemistry, and medicine, and director of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine (IBNAM), reported on his work that suggests nanotechnology can be used to mobilize the body's own healing abilities to repair or regenerate tissues and organs.  Stupp was the featured speaker at the launching of a new report NanoFrontiers: Visions for the Future of Nanotechnology from the Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.  The project was co-sponsored by the Directors of the NIH and the NSF.

In a dramatic demonstration of what nanotechnology might achieve in regenerative medicine, paralyzed lab mice with spinal cord injuries have regained the ability to use their hind legs six weeks after a simple injection of a purpose-designed nanomaterial.

A video of Stupp discussing his groundbreaking research with collaborator John Kessler, M.D., Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology and chair of the Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is available at http://www.nanotechproject.org/114.

"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," Stupp said. The nanofibers -- thousands of times thinner than a human hair -- 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."

Stupp and his coworkers designed molecules with the capacity to self-assemble into nanofibers once injected into the body with a syringe. When the nanofibers form they can be immobilized in an area of tissue where it is necessary to activate some biological process, for example saving damaged cells or regenerating needed differentiated cells from stem cells.

This same work also has implications for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, both diseases in which key brain cells stop working properly.

Stupp also reported on the ongoing research with collaborators in Mexico and Canada, showing the impressive visual of mice recovering from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease after being exposed to the bioactive nanostructures developed in Stupp's laboratory at Northwestern University. He also reported on work with Jon Lomasney, associate professor of pathology at Northwestern, demonstrating the use of nanostructures and proteins to achieve recovery of heart function after an infarct.