His idea was simple: Because neural circuits use electrical signals often conducted by neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) to communicate between the brain and the rest of the body, he could build neurotransmitters into the material used to repair a broken circuit. The neurotransmitters could coax the neurons in the damaged nerves to regrow and reconnect with their target organ.
Strange though his idea might have seemed to others in his field, Wang, an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, discovered that he could integrate dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter, into a polymer to stimulate nerve tissues to send out new connections. The discovery is the first step toward the eventual goal of implanting the new polymer into patients suffering from neurological disorders to help repair damaged nerves. The findings were published online the week of Oct. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"We showed that you could use a neurotransmitter as a building block of a polymer," said Wang. "Once integrated into the polymer, the transmitter can still elicit a specific response from nerve tissues."
The "designer" polymer was recognized by the neurons when used on a small piece of nerve tissue and stimulated extensive neural growth. The implanted polymer didn't cause any tissue scarring or nerve degeneration, allowing the nerve to grow in a hostile environment post injury.
When ready for clinical use, the polymer would be implanted at the damaged site to promote nerve regeneration. As the nerve tissue reforms, the polymer degrades.
Wang's team found that dopamine's structure, which contains two hydroxyl groups, is vital for the material's neuroactivity.
Source:Georgia Institute of Technology