Sticky Chemical Can Help
Severed Nerves Grow Back Together
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a finding that offers hope to the paralyzed and others with nerve injuries, a new technique that uses a sticky chemical and a calcium bath may help severed nerve endings grow back together, scientists said on Thursday.
The technique has worked in a range of animals, from crayfish to guinea pigs, the researchers said. They hope to test it soon in people.
"This new approach can almost certainly be used to rapidly rejoin cut or crushed axons (the part of a nerve cell through which impulses travel away from the cell body) in humans," said George Bittner of the University of Texas at Austin, who led the research.
"The technique rejoins the cut or crushed ends of severed central and peripheral nerve cells so that the repaired cells again conduct electrical signals through the severed area within seconds to minutes after they are rejoined," he added.
Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Bittner and colleagues said they applied a sticky solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG) to the cut ends of nerve axons for a minute or two. PEG often is used in medicine and keeps the severed nerve ends together.
The researchers washed this solution off and then soaked the nerve ends in calcium salt solutions that resemble natural body fluids.
Within minutes, the nerves were transmitting signals, they said.
Scientists previously thought that nerve cells could not be regrown once they were severed, but many recent experiments have shown this is not true.
One experimental compound being used is GM-1 ganglioside, a normal part of a cell's membrane that helps control cell growth, development and healing following an injury. Researchers speculated that the compound can cause nerve endings to regrow when used as a drug.