Lonnie Shea, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has developed the technology for an injection that reduces the risk of paralysis and spinal cord injury after trauma to the central nervous system.
A balanced human body is able to protect the central nervous system from the excited, fast-moving immune cells that exist elsewhere in the body. However, when an individual experiences trauma, the barrier breaks down and immune cells are released into the nervous system to attack the site of the trauma.
The rapid inflow of immune cells causes heightened rates of inflammation and tissue deterioration that can lead to damage such as paralysis or loss of sensation.
Shea’s injection uses nanoparticles to redirect the immune cells and prevent them from swarming the site of the trauma. With a lower number of immune cells at the spinal cord, the area experiences far less inflammation and tissue deterioration. Ultimately, the ability to redirect immune cells alleviates a considerable amount of long-term pain caused by trauma to the central nervous system.
The method of using nanoparticles has also proven successful in mitigating trauma of multiple sclerosis and West Nile Virus, which leads scientists to believe the injection could benefit patients with a multitude of inflammatory diseases.
“The immune system underlies autoimmune disease, cancer, trauma, regeneration — nearly every major disease,” says Shae. “Tools that can target immune cells and reprogram them to a desired response have numerous opportunities for treating or managing disease.”
Shea says he and his team demonstrated “that instead of overcoming an immune response, we can co-opt the immune response to work for us to promote the therapeutic response.”
With the technology, Shea hopes to help each of the 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. that occur annually.