Researchers Develop Nanotechnology Technique to Restore Damaged Nerve Cells

Researchers Develop Nanotechnology Technique to Restore Damaged Nerve Cells
Neurons (red) and astrocytes (green), which can be made from neural stem cells, are seen in this undated file photo, released by the Institute for Stem Cell Research on Aug. 16, 2005. (Institute for Stem Cell Research via Getty Images)
Lia Onely

Researchers created a new technique using nano-magnets to restore damaged nerve cells (neurons).

Neurons are the basic units of the brain and the nervous system. If they are damaged by degenerative disease or physical trauma, their ability to repair and heal is limited.

Restoring neural pathways and enabling them to regain their function is a major challenge in the field of tissue engineering.

A process using nanotechnology and magnetic manipulations developed by Israeli researchers at the Kofkin Faculty of Engineering at Bar-Ilan University overcomes this challenge, according to a statement by the university.
They published their research recently in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Creating ‘Mini-Brains’

To create a 3D mini neural network, the researchers injected nanoparticles of magnetic iron oxide into neural progenitor cells, which are cells that are known to develop into neurons.

This turned the cells into independent magnetic units.

Then, they exposed the progenitor cells to pre-adjusted magnetic fields, remotely directing the movement of the cells within a 3D and multi-layered collagen substrate. The collagen substrate mimics the characteristics of body tissue.

These magnetic manipulations allowed the researchers to create 3D “mini-brains,” which are “functional and multi-layered neural networks that mimic elements found in the brain of mammals,” according to the statement.

When the collagen solution was then solidified into a gel, the cells stayed in place according to the magnetic fields that had been applied.

The cells matured into neurons within a few days, forming extensions and connections. The cells also demonstrated electrical activity and thrived for more than 3 weeks.

“This method paves the way for the creation of 3D cell architecture on a customized scale for use in bioengineering, therapeutic and research applications, both inside and outside the body,” said doctoral student Reut Plen, according to the statement.

The 3D neural networks the researchers created mimic properties of human brain tissues, so they can be used as experimental “mini-brains” said Plen.

These 3D networks can serve as a model to study medicinal drugs, to investigate the communication between tissues, and as a way for building artificial networks for interfaces between engineering and biological components, she said.

“The advantage of using this method is that magnetic fields can affect cells located deep inside the body in a non-invasive manner,” said Plen.


Insertion of magnetic particles into cells, and particularly into nerve cells, raises safety questions, the university acknowledged in the statement.

So the researchers said they tested how different particles affect the health of cells in culture.

They also used a protein to coat the magnetic particles, creating a buffer between cells and the magnetic element. This encourages nanoparticles to penetrate into the cells.

Iron—the building block of the nanoparticle—exists naturally in the body so it isn’t a foreign substance, said lead author Orit Shefi, professor in the Faculty of Engineering at Bar-Ilan University, and head of the Neuro-engineering and Regeneration laboratory.

In addition, “the same gel with magnetic particles has been tested in our laboratory and found safe to use in animal models,” she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “has already approved the use of magnetic nanoparticles for diagnostic and imaging purposes and in cases of severe injury,” according to the statement.

The researchers said this new technique of creating “mini-brains” may enable solutions for various neurological impairments.

Lia Onely reports for The Epoch Times from Israel.
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