A Monash University PhD student has developed a new technique that could revolutionise stem cell treatment for Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury.
David Nisbet from Monash University's Department of Materials Engineering has used existing polymer-based biodegradable fibres, 100 times smaller than a human hair, and re-engineered them to create a unique 3-D scaffold that could potentially allow stem cells to repair damaged nerves in the human body more quickly and effectively.
Mr Nisbet said a combined process of electrospinning and chemical treatment was used to customise the fibre structure, which can then be located within the body.
"The scaffold is injected into the body at the site requiring nerve regeneration. We can embed the stem cells into the scaffold outside the body or once the scaffold is implanted. The nerve cells adhere to the scaffold in the same way ivy grips and weaves through a trellis, forming a bridge in the brain or spinal cord. Over time, the scaffold breaks down and is naturally passed from the body, leaving the newly regenerated nerves intact," Mr Nisbet said.
Mr Nisbet said the existing processes released stem cells into the nervous system where they 'floated' around.
"Our studies show that stem cells anchored to a scaffold not only attach more easily, but rapidly adapt to their environment and regenerate effectively. We are very excited about the therapeutic outcomes that could be obtained from our research," Mr Nisbet said.
"We are at the interface of two once separate disciplines -- nanotechnology and stem cell research -- combining into a new exciting era of discovery which could be the first step towards a cure for conditions such as Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury.
"Repairing damaged neural pathways is the holy grail of many researchers. It is a very long road to success, which will require small steps from many people, but it's wonderful to know we're making such a significant contribution here at Monash University," Mr Nisbet said.
The potential of Nisbet's scaffold design has captured the interest of colleagues. The University of Toronto in Canada and the Melbourne-based Howard Florey Institute are conducting further tests, with preliminary results showing strong potential.
Another collaboration, with the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria, is investigating the use of scaffolds in the potential treatment of damaged brain nerve cells.
Mr Nisbet said biodegradable fibres were commonly used in biomedical sciences and regenerative technologies, but his technique of re-engineering them into a 3-D structure is a world first.