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A Step Forward In Effort to Regenerate Damaged Nerves
February 21, 2012
The carnage evident in disasters like car wrecks or wartime battles is oftentimes mirrored within the bodies of the people involved. A severe wound can leave blood vessels and nerves severed, bones broken, and cellular wreckage strewn throughout the body – a debris field within the body itself.
It’s scenes like this that neurosurgeon Jason Huang, M.D., confronts every day. Severe damage to nerves is one of the most challenging wounds to treat for Huang and colleagues. It’s a type of wound suffered by people who are the victims of gunshots or stabbings, by those who have been involved in car accidents – or by soldiers injured on the battlefield, like those whom Huang treated in Iraq.
Now, back in his university laboratory, Huang and his team have taken a step forward toward the goal of repairing nerves in such patients more effectively. In a paper published in the journal PLoS One, Huang and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center report that a surprising set of cells may hold potential for nerve transplants.
In a study in rats, Huang’s group found that dorsal root ganglion neurons, or DRG cells, help create thick, healthy nerves, without provoking unwanted attention from the immune system.
The finding is one step toward better treatment for the more than 350,000 patients each year in the United States who have serious injuries to their peripheral nerves. Huang’s laboratory is one of a handful developing new technologies to treat such wounds.
“These are very serious injuries, and patients really suffer, many for a very long time,” said Huang, associate professor of Neurosurgery and chief of Neurosurgery at Highland Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Rochester Medical Center. “There are a variety of options, but none of them is ideal.
“Our long-term goal is to grow living nerves in the laboratory, then transplant them into patients and cut down the amount of time it takes for those nerves to work,” added Huang, whose project was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and by the University of Rochester Medical Center.
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