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Jefferson, Drexel Test Gel to Aid Breathing After Spinal Cord Injuries

06/20/18

Research

Promising lab results show that a hydrogel designed to restore independent, unassisted breathing in the aftermath of a serious spinal cord injury could potentially prove effective in human beings, according to researchers from Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel University.

In animal tests, scientists used a specially formulated hydrogel that delivers a neurostimulator to repair damaged proteins at the site of the injury. The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, focused specifically on how the hydrogel impacted the phrenic nerves, which control the diaphragm and the rhythmic inflation of the lungs.

“The hydrogel can deliver a neuron-stimulating agent that repairs a critical aspect of spinal cord damage, while avoiding systemic side effects of the agent,” says co-senior researcher Angelo Lepore, PhD, an associate professor in the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience at Jefferson. “Our preliminary work in animal models could lead to new treatments in the future for patients suffering from respiratory compromise, and might also apply to restoring other functions affected by the injury.”

In tests on rat models, researchers saw a 60 to70 percent improvement in breathing control as measured by diaphragm-muscle contractions. In the set of nerves that helps set the rhythmic control of inhalation, the study even documented regrowth of those nerves.