An article published in Science by Maurizio Prato, Ikerbasque Research Professor at CIC biomaGUNE, along with Silvia Marchesan (U. Trieste) and Laura Ballerini (SISSA) analyses how flexible nanomaterials may recruit neurons or create artificial bridges to restore connectivity. Despite recent advances in supportive care for spinal cord injury (SCI), there is a great need for treatments that can improve the neurological outcome.
After SCI, there is essentially no regrowth of axons beyond the point of the lesion, leaving intact, although nonfunctional, circuits below the site of injury. The article discusses the potential for functional recovery from SCI by using nanomaterials to restore these dysfunctional circuits through a combination of artificial connections and devices to help stimulate motor and sensory recovery.
Implantable structures have the potential to artificially bridge neurons or recruit neurons to restore connectivity. Injectable nanoelectronics that cooperate with the patient’s brain to restore spinal function may generate hybrid structures able to cross the barriers between artificial and natural systems. As the authors explain, "many challenges remain in learning how to restore neuronal systems through designed nanostructures, but the very open design space of these approaches will help enable successful outcomes".