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Getting on your nerves: $1.4 million NIH grant to study the regeneration of nerves
Date:11/9/2011

Injuries to the nervous system affect large numbers of people globally. Such injuries can result in loss of feeling or movement. With a new $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Deanna Thompson, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will investigate a promising new method to heal traumatic nerve damage, using electrical stimulation to prime and pump neuronal growth.

The grant, titled "Directed Formation of Enhanced 3-dimensional oriented Schwann Cellular Arrays for the Repair of Large-Gap Peripheral Nerve Injuries," will span a four-year period.

The research looks specifically at healing the peripheral nervous system, which is the system of nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord that extends throughout the rest of our body. The system has a greater ability to repair itself compared to the central nervous system housed in the brain and spinal cord, but patients with severe injuries to the peripheral nervous system rarely regain full function.

Thompson and her colleagues will further pursue some promising discoveries that they have already made on how nerve repair can be stimulated and directed to repair large-gap injuries that cannot spontaneously regenerate.

By using small electrical pulses, similar to the electrical stimulation created naturally in the body during development, Thompson has found that she can orient and direct helper cells called Schwann cells into the site of an injury. In addition, she has found that the pulses also stimulate re-growing nerves to extend faster, potentially increasing the rate of repair.

Thompson wants to see the effective tools used for bone and wound healing one day applied to restore nerve function following trauma.

"Doctors currently use electrical stimulation technologies to heal a variety of injuries to bone or muscle as well as to manage pain, heal diabetic wounds, and deep brain stimulation," Thompson said. "These stimulat
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Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
demarg@rpi.edu
518-276-6542
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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