Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, USA, have developed a promising new biomaterial that could offer targeted treatment to the damaged spinal cord tissue, preventing further damage after the initial trauma caused by an injury.
In research published in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Rensselaer demonstrated how estrogen — a natural hormone produced in the body — can be polymerised into a slow-releasing biomaterial and applied to nervous system cells to protect those cells and even promote regeneration.
“Estrogen is known to be neuroprotective,” said Ryan Gilbert, a professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer and a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).
“After spinal cord injury, you have all these free radicals that are released and cause the injury to increase over time. We’re trying to stop the spread of the injury. It’s more of an acute phase treatment we are looking to develop.”
By observing nature’s methods of protection, Gilbert partnered with Edmund Palermo, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer, to develop a polymer that — when implanted directly on the spinal cord — would target the injured tissue and release estrogen as a therapeutic over a period of years.
“This was the first time polyestrogen was processed into fibers that showed the ability to enhance the outgrowth of neural cells along the fiber direction without adding growth factors,” Palermo said.
The team’s new approach is now being patented and will enable the researchers to push their exploration even further toward preclinical research, where they can see how their polymerised fibers would work in a living system.