Prof helps spinal injury with stem cell treatment
A procedure to help eliminate the need for major surgery for patients with spinal cord injuries is being developed by a research group that includes two UH engineering professors.
The treatment, which involves injecting a solution that contains adult stem cells and nanoparticles into the patients’ spinal cord, would also help with recovery.
“The nanoparticles will be used to help move the stem cells in the proper direction, and I am working on the fundamentals of this process,” said Li Sun, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
After the solution is injected, a magnetic field will expose the magnetic properties of the nanoparticles and turn them into an anchor that guides the stem cells.
The nanoparticles gain polarity, so they attach to each other along the line where the magnetic field is present.
This way, the stem cells align properly to reconnect the separated part of the spinal cord.
“We are still working on finding a proper way to coat the nanoparticles with a polymer,” said Sun.
Dong Liu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said he is contributing with his background in dealing with the movement of nanoparticles.
He’s currently working on a method to present the nanoparticles to the adult stem cells.
He said that the research is important because current methods of treatment require intensive surgery that may not even work.
“You have to cut off a certain part of the damaged spinal cord, put the scaffold in and hope the stem cells grow in the right direction,” Liu said. “With this new method, we don’t need to arrange the stem cells in any physical bioscaffold. We put them in a solution because we want to inject them into the spinal cord.”
Sun, an expert on material synthesis, will provide the nanoparticles.
The project began when the Alliance for Nanohealth awarded a seed grant last year.
The group was recently awarded a $390,000 grant from National Science Foundation. According to their website, the NSF provides funding for approximately 11,000 out of the 40,000 proposals that are sent.
Sun said they have not received the money to move forward just yet, but he remains optimistic about continuing his work and watching everything fall into place.
Liu said he feels that this procedure is something we could see in the near future, and that the only barrier is the toxicity of nanoparticles.
“We will soon be able to demonstrate this in the lab,” Liu said. “This is something that can develop rapidly.”