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Nerve damage

Silk fibers may help repair nerve damage in humans

Friday, July 14, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: nerve damage, medical technology, health news


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(NewsTarget) UK scientists have found a special silk fiber with properties similar to spider silk that can encourage regrowth of nerve cells across severed nerves, and could possibly be used to treat damaged spinal cords in the future.

The silk -- called Spidrex -- is derived from silk worms that have been modified to enhance the silk fibers with special properties that encourage cells to bind to it. Spidrex has been tested in both tissue culture and animals by researchers from Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, and showed positive results.

An award-winning photograph of Spidrex in action shows nerve processor threads growing along the length of the silk fibers, as well as the presence and growth of supporting cells called Schwann cells, which support the regeneration of nerves.

Lead researcher professor John Priestley says, "[I]n animal studies we have shown, both in the spinal cord and in peripheral nerves, the silk fibers support nerve growth." Priestly also said that the silk could be assembled into complex tubes that could be custom-designed to fit certain nerves or bridge a gap of a certain width.

The researchers hope to use the silk to treat patients whose peripheral nerves -- the nerves that provide sensation and control muscles -- have been severed. Priestly says using the silk fibers to repair damaged spinal cords is a possible but ambitious future goal.

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