Regeneration of nerve cells can be accelerated by modulating the immune system, says study. By altering activity of the macrophage cells that respond to injuries, researchers dramatically increased the rate at which nerve processes regrew.
Influencing the macrophages immediately after injury may affect the whole cascade of biochemical events that occurs after nerve damage, potentially eliminating the need to directly stimulate the growth of axons using nerve growth factors. If the results of this first-ever study can be applied to humans, they could one day lead to a new strategy for treating peripheral nerve injuries that typically result from trauma, surgical resection of tumors or radical prostectomy.
"Both scar formation and healing are the end results of two different cascades of biological processes that result from injuries," said Ravi Bellamkonda, Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and member of the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center at Georgia Tech and Emory University. "In this study, we show that by manipulating the immune system soon after injury, we can bias the system toward healing, and stimulate the natural repair mechanisms of the body."
Beyond nerves, researchers believe their technique could also be applied to help regenerate other tissue - such as bone. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and reported online Sept. 26, 2012, by the journal Biomaterials