In a new, potentially game-changing medical approach, scientists at the University of Michigan released research on how an “EpiPen” for trauma can prevent the body’s immune system from overreacting, possibly lessening the risk of paralysis.
The approach was demonstrated in mice, with the nanoparticles enhancing healing by reprogramming the aggressive immune cells. This is kind of like how an EpiPen works with an allergic reaction—except in this case, the nanoparticles are working on the central nervous system.
“In this work, we demonstrate that instead of overcoming an immune response, we can co-opt the immune response to work for us to promote the therapeutic response,” said Lonnie Shea, the Steven A. Goldstein Collegiate Professor of Biomedical Engineering.
In a normal injury, immune cells work to rush into the affected area to initiate the healing process. In the central nervous system, though, immune cells can create too much inflammation in their frenzy to heal. This often can lead to the destruction of neurons, damage to the insulating sheaths around nerve fibers, and the formation of a scar that prevents the regeneration of the spinal cord’s nerve cells.
Previous attempts to offset complications from this immune response included injecting steroids like methylprednisolone. That practice has largely been discarded since it comes with side effects that include sepsis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and blood clots.
The University of Michigan-designed nanoparticles redirect some immune cells on their way to the injured spinal cord. Those that get to the cord have been altered to be more pro-regenerative. With fewer immune cells at the location of trauma, there is less inflammation and tissue deterioration.
Potentially, the approach is not limited to spinal injuries but can be used for inflammatory conditions.
“Hopefully, this technology could lead to new therapeutic strategies not only for patients with spinal cord injury but for those with various inflammatory diseases,” said Jonghyuck Park, a U-M research fellow working with Shea.