Forum für Wissenschaft, Industrie und Wirtschaft

Hauptsponsoren:     3M 


Stem cells + nanofibers = Promising nerve research

Researchers coax cells to grow and myelinate along thin fibers, with potential use in testing treatments for neurological diseases

Every week in his clinic at the University of Michigan, neurologist Joseph Corey, M.D., Ph.D., treats patients whose nerves are dying or shrinking due to disease or injury.

This shows an oligodendrocyte nerve cell (red/purple) wrapped around a polymer nanofiber (white/clear).

Credit: Univ. of Michigan/UCSF

He sees the pain, the loss of ability and the other effects that nerve-destroying conditions cause – and wishes he could give patients more effective treatments than what's available, or regenerate their nerves. Then he heads to his research lab at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, where his team is working toward that exact goal.

In new research published in several recent papers, Corey and his colleagues from the U-M Medical School, VAAAHS and the University of California, San Francisco report success in developing polymer nanofiber technologies for understanding how nerves form, why they don't reconnect after injury, and what can be done to prevent or slow damage.

Using polymer nanofibers thinner than human hairs as scaffolds, researchers coaxed a particular type of brain cell to wrap around nanofibers that mimic the shape and size of nerves found in the body.

They've even managed to encourage the process of myelination – the formation of a protective coating that guards larger nerve fibers from damage. They began to see multiple concentric layers of the protective substance called myelin start to form, just as they do in the body. Together with the laboratory team of their collaborator Jonah Chan at UCSF, the authors reported the findings in Nature Methods.

The research involves oligodendrocytes, which are the supporting actors to neurons -- the "stars" of the central nervous system. Without oligodendrocytes, central nervous system neurons can't effectively transmit the electrical signals that control everything from muscle movement to brain function.

Oligodendrocytes are the type of cells typically affected by multiple sclerosis, and loss of myelin is a hallmark of that debilitating disease.

The researchers have also determined the optimum diameter for the nanofibers to support this process – giving important new clues to answer the question of why some nerves are myelinated and some aren't.

While they haven't yet created fully functioning "nerves in a dish," the researchers believe their work offers a new way to study nerves and test treatment possibilities. Corey, an assistant professor of neurology and biomedical engineering at the U-M Medical School and researcher in the VA Geriatrics Research, Education and Clinical Center, explains that the thin fibers are crucial for the success of the work.

"If it's about the same length and diameter as a neuron, the nerve cells follow it and their shape and location conform to it," he says. "Essentially, these fibers are the same size as a neuron."

The researchers used polystyrene, a common plastic, to make fibers through a technique called electrospinnning. In a recent paper in Materials Science and Engineering C, they discovered new techniques to optimize how fibers made from poly-L-lactide, a biodegradable polymer, can be better aligned to resemble neurons and to guide regenerating nerve cells.

They're also working to determine the factors that make oligodendrocytes attach to the long narrow axons of neurons, and perhaps to start forming myelin sheaths too.

By attaching particular molecules to the nanofibers, Corey and his colleagues hope to learn more about what makes this process work -- and what makes it go awry, as in diseases caused by poor nerve development.

"What we need to do for multiple sclerosis is to encourage nerves to remyelinate," he says. "For nerve damage caused by trauma, on the other hand, we need to encourage regeneration."

In addition to Corey, the research has been led by Chan, the Rachleff Professor of Neurology at UCSF, VAAAHS lab team member and U-M graduate Samuel J. Tuck, U-M biomedical engineering graduate student Michelle Leach, UCSF's Stephanie Redmond, Seonook Lee, Synthia Mellon and S.Y. Christin Chong, and Zhang-Qi Feng of U-M Biomedical Engineering.

Peripheral nerves, which have neurons at the center surrounded by cells called Schwann cells, can also be studied using the nanofiber technique. The system could also be used to study how different types of cells interact during and after nerve formation.

Toward creating new nerves, Corey's lab has collaborated with R. Keith Duncan, PhD, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology. Published in Biomacromolecules, they found that stem cells are more likely to develop into neurons when they are grown on aligned nanofibers produced in Corey's lab. They eventually hope to use this approach to build new nerves from stem cells and direct their connections to undamaged parts of the brain and to muscle.

Eventually, Corey envisions, perhaps nerves could be grown along nanofibers in a lab setting and then transferred to patients' bodies, where the fiber would safely degrade.

The research was supported by a VA Merit funding grant, the US National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Award, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS062796-02).


Nature Methods 9, 917, (2012) doi:10.1038/nmeth.2105

Biomacromolecules, Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/bm301220k

Materials Science and Engineering: C, Volume 32, Issue 7, 1 October 2012, Pages 1779�

Important note for patients:

This research is still in the laboratory stages, and there are no immediate plans to perform studies in human patients. If you are interested in finding other opportunities to take part in medical research studies at U-M, please visit

Kara Gavin | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders
24.10.2016 | Baylor College of Medicine

nachricht New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground
24.10.2016 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Magnete aus dem 3D-Drucker

Wie kann man einen Magneten bauen, der genau das gewünschte Magnetfeld hat? Die TU Wien hat eine Lösung: Erstmals können Magnete mit 3D-Drucker hergestellt werden.

Starke Magnete herzustellen ist heute technisch kein Problem. Schwierig ist es allerdings, einen Permanentmagneten zu produzieren, dessen Magnetfeld eine ganz...

Im Focus: Die Quanten-Schnüffelnase

Der Laser, der zugleich ein Detektor ist: An der TU Wien wurde ein mikroskopisch kleiner Sensor entwickelt, mit dem man gleichzeitig verschiedene Gase nachweisen kann.

Wir Menschen erschnüffeln unterschiedliche Gerüche und Düfte durch chemische Rezeptoren in unserer Nase. Doch für den technischen Nachweis von Gasen greift man...

Im Focus: „Molekül-Selfie“ enthüllt den Aufbruch einer chemischen Bindung

Wissenschaftlern des Institute of Photonic Sciences (Barcelona) ist es gelungen, die Position aller Atome eines Moleküls zu verfolgen während der Aufbruch einer der chemischen Bindungen ein einzelnes Proton freisetzt. Hierzu wurde ein am Heidelberger Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik entwickeltes Reaktionsmikroskop verwendet [Science, 21. Oktober 2016].

Man stelle sich vor, die einzelnen Atome eines Moleküls ließen sich während einer chemischen Reaktion beobachten: Wie sie sich umlagern, um eine neue Substanz...

Im Focus: Elektronik mit Licht beschleunigen

Wissenschaftler am MPQ haben mit ultrakurzen Laserpulsen die schnellsten jemals erzeugten elektrischen Ströme in Festkörpern gemessen. Die Elektronen führten in einer Sekunde achtmillionen Milliarden Schwingungen aus, ein absoluter Rekord für die Steuerung von Elektronen in Festkörpern.

Die Leistungsfähigkeit von modernen elektronischen Geräten wie Computern oder Mobilfunkgeräten wird durch die Geschwindigkeit bestimmt, mit der die...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Alle Focus-News des Innovations-reports >>>



im innovations-report
in Kooperation mit academics

Großer Hirntumor-Informationstag in Würzburg

24.10.2016 | Veranstaltungen

Führende Rohstoffwissenschaftler stellen auf BMBF-Statuskonferenz ihre r⁴-Forschungsarbeiten vor

24.10.2016 | Veranstaltungen

Futurium startet mit Pop-Up-Lab das Satellitenprogramm des STATE-Festivals

24.10.2016 | Veranstaltungen

Weitere VideoLinks >>>
Aktuelle Beiträge

Großer Hirntumor-Informationstag in Würzburg

24.10.2016 | Veranstaltungsnachrichten

Führende Rohstoffwissenschaftler stellen auf BMBF-Statuskonferenz ihre r⁴-Forschungsarbeiten vor

24.10.2016 | Veranstaltungsnachrichten

Lange gesucht, endlich gefunden: Die rostfressende Mikrobe

24.10.2016 | Biowissenschaften Chemie