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Nanotechnology May Repair Damaged Brains

Hamster study suggests the technique might someday aid humans, researchers say

TUESDAY, March 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Rodents blinded by brain damage had their vision partially restored within weeks after being treated with nanotechnology developed by bioengineers and neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The findings provide evidence that similar strategies might someday work in humans.

"If we can reconnect parts of the brain that were disconnected by stroke, then we may be able to restore speech to an individual who is able to understand what is said but has lost the ability to speak," study co-author Rutledge G. Ellis-Behnke, research scientist in MIT's department of brain and cognitive sciences, said in a prepared statement.

This method uses an extremely tiny biodegradable scaffold that provides brain cells with a place to re-grow -- like a vine on a trellis -- in the damaged area of the brain. This is the first study to use nanotechnology to repair and heal the brain and restore function in a damaged brain region. The approach may one day help treat stroke patients and people with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.

The findings appear online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study included young and adult hamsters with severed neural pathways. The animals were injected with a solution containing certain kinds of peptides (protein fragments) that create a mesh or scaffold of tiny, interwoven fibers. Brain cells are able to grow on this mesh.

Within about six weeks, the hamsters had regained useful vision and the adults' brains responded as well as the younger animals' brains.

"This is not about restoring 100 percent of damaged brain cells, but 20 percent or even less may be enough to restore function, and that is our goal," Ellis-Behnke said.

More information

The Brain Injury Association of America has more about types of brain injury.

SOURCE: MIT, news release, March 13, 2006
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