Neural Regeneration

Directional guidance of neurite outgrowth on aligned collagen hydrogels. DRG explants were seeded on top of aligned collagen hydrogels. Neurite extension processed bidirectionally parallel to the long axis of fibers.

Neural regeneration research at NFB involves investigations into the mechanisms of repair of peripheral nerve and spinal cord and the development of functionalized scaffolds to aid this repair.

Neural Regeneration

Peripheral Nerve

The nervous system is comprised of central and peripheral branches, the function of which is to relay information to and from all parts of the body. This communication is made possible through an extensive network of neurons and supporting cells called glia. Nerve injury, whether traumatic or degenerative, disrupts the normal flow of information and can, depending on the location and mechanism of injury, lead to deleterious effects.
Peripheral nerve injuries occur with accidental trauma or during the course of surgery. If coaptation is not possible, a scaffold is required to bridge the gap and guide nerve regeneration. Current research at NFB involves development of guided nerve conduits. These conduits can be functionalized further to modulate the nerve growth and inflammatory response.
 

Spinal Cord

Spinal cord injuries, whether traumatic or disease-related, often result in damage to motor and sensory tracts running across the lesion site, leading to loss of function. After spinal cord injury, anatomical reintegration is necessary to restore function. In addition to anatomical disruption, injury limits the innate capacity of neurons to regenerate. With the proper identification of the underlying mechanisms, it is possible to alternatively regulate nerve growth following injury. Current research at NFB focuses on the development of self assembled aligned functionalized hydrogel systems for the treatment of spinal cord injury.

Pain

The prevalence of chronic pain in Ireland is estimated at 13 % of the total population. Pain impacts negatively on quality of life and ability to conduct everyday activities with economic implications through loss of time from work. Therapeutic intervention using current pharmaceuticals achieves satisfactory pain relief in less than 50 % of chronic pain patients. There is a need to develop novel treatments for pain and to examine potential for novel drug delivery systems to improve the efficacy of drugs currently available. Appropriate design of drug delivery systems may reduce adverse side-effect profiles, reduce drug degradation and loss, increase bioavailability and target the therapy to the site of interest. Current research at NFB involves the development of drug delivery platforms that facilitates the targeting of analgesic therapies to peripheral sites of action.

Neuroinflammatory Disease

Parkinson’s disease:

Parkinson`s Disease occurs in a variety of forms and with a largely unknown etiology. However, this disease is characterised by the loss of the dopaminergic neurons in the basal ganglia, leading to the familiar symptoms such as a resting tremor, bradykinesia (slowness of movement) and rigidity. Current therapies, although very effective at treating the symptoms, do not halt the dopaminergic neuron loss. Research at NFB is aimed at using polymeric gene therapy systems to halt the progression of neuron loss through neuroprotective routes.

Multiple sclerosis:

Multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic demyelinating disease, is thought to be initiated by pathogenic T cells that transmigrate the vascular endothelium and enter the brain through vascular and parenchymal basement membranes. Although MS is regarded as a white matter disease, the incidence of the demyelination and axonal injury is also prominent in grey matter. Current models used for these studies do not adequately represent the chronic lesions in cortical grey matter found in MS sufferers. At NFB, we are focusing on the development of a chronic model system using a functionalised biomaterials approach.