Spinal injury can leave rips and tears in the delicate bundles of nerve cells (neurons) of the central nervous system. Often this trauma is so great that the glial cells that nurture our neurons’ natural growth are unable to bridge the gaps. Pictured in green with their nuclei stained blue, these glial cells have been grown outside of the human body. The cells on the right were given manmade nanofibres as scaffolding and, like a garden vine climbing along a fence (only 10,000 times smaller), have stretched out as they might along the spine. Such growth guidance could be an important first step to healing complex spinal injuries. In the future, meshes of different types of glial cells designed and grown outside the patient, could be transplanted to encourage neurons to knit back into damaged areas.
Written by John Ankers