Some parts of the body, like the liver, can regenerate
themselves after damage. But others, such as our nervous system, are considered
either irreparable or slow to recover, leaving thousands with a lifetime of
pain, limited mobility, or even paralysis.
Now a team of Tel Aviv Universityresearchers, including Dr.
Shimon Rochkindof TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine andTel Aviv Sourasky
Medical Center andProf. Zvi Nevo of TAU's Department of Human Molecular
Genetics and Biochemistry, has invented a method for repairing damaged
peripheral nerves. Through a biodegradable implant in combination with a
newly-developed Guiding Regeneration Gel (GRG) that increases nerve growth and
healing, the functionality of a torn or damaged nerve could ultimately be
This innovative project is now gaining international
recognition. Its initial successes were reported recently at several renowned
scientific congresses, including the World Federation of Neurological Societies
and the European Neurological Society. And the therapy, already tested in
animal models, is only a few years away from clinical use, says Dr. Rochkind.
Like healing in the
A nerve is like an electrical cable. When severed or
otherwise damaged, power can no longer be transferred and the cable loses its
functionality. Similarly, a damaged nerve loses the ability to transfer signals
for movement and feeling through the nervous system.
But Dr. Rochkind and Prof. Nevo found a way to breach the
gap. In their method, two severed ends of a damaged nerve are reconnected by
implanting a soft, biodegradable tube, which serves as a bridge to help the
nerve ends connect. The innovative gel which lines the inside of the tube
nurtures nerve fibres growth, encouraging the nerve to reconnect the severed
ends through the tube, even in cases with massive nerve damage, Dr. Rochkind
The key lies in the composition of the gel, the researchers
say, which has three main components: anti-oxidants, which exhibit high
anti-inflammatory activities; synthetic laminin peptides, which act as a
railway or track for the nerve fibres to grow along; and hyaluronic acid,
commonly found in the human foetus, which serves as a buffer against drying, a
major danger for most implants. These components allow the nerve to heal the
way a foetus does in the womb — quickly and smoothly.
Keeping cells safe
The implant has already been tested in animal models, and the
gel by itself can be used as a stand-alone product, acting as an aid to cell
therapy. GRG is not only able to preserve cells, it can support their survival
while being used for therapy and transplantation, says Dr. Rochkind.
When grown in the gel, cells show excellent development, as
well as intensive fibre growth. This could have implications for the treatment
of diseases such as Parkinson's, for which researchers are actively exploring
cell therapy as a potential solution.