US researchers are hopeful that nanotechnology can be used to mobilise the body's own healing abilities to repair or regenerate damaged cells.
He has demonstrated how paralysed lab mice with spinal cord injuries can regain the ability to walk using their hind limbs six weeks after a simple injection of a purpose-designed nano-material.
"By injecting molecules that were designed to self-assemble into nanostructures in the spinal tissue, we have been able to rescue and regrow rapidly damaged neurons," said Dr Stupp.
"The nano-fibres, thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are the key to not only preventing the formation of harmful scar tissue which inhibits spinal cord healing, but to stimulating the body into regenerating lost or damaged cells."
Dr Stupp's work hinges on self-assembly, a fundamental area of nanotechnology that he believes will ultimately enable medical researchers to tailor patient treatments in previously unimaginable ways.
The team designed molecules with the capacity to self-assemble into nano-fibres once injected into the body with a syringe.
When the nano-fibres form they can be immobilised in an area of tissue where it is necessary to activate some biological process, for example saving damaged cells or regenerating differentiated cells from stem cells.
The researchers believe that this work also has implications for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's in which key brain cells stop working properly.
"This research provides an early glimpse into the new and exciting places where nanotechnology can take us," said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
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