Washington: Scientists have developed a new biomaterial from the seeds of the tamarind tree which they claim could help regrow damaged nerves in the brain and spinal chord, a major finding which may soon revolutionise treatment of nerve-based diseases like Parkinson`s.
An international team, led by Monash University, has investigated xyloglucan -- a plant-based compound derived from the seeds of tamarind tree -- and found that it plays a major role in repairing damaged nerve cells in laboratory animals.
The new compound can be injected into an injury site as a liquid, because before becoming a gel as it reaches body temperature. Once in place, the gel acts as support structure through which healthy cells can migrate and also potentially reattach themselves to the nervous system, say the scientists.
Until now, all damage to the nerve cells of the central nervous system -- the brain and spinal cord – had been considered irreparable.
Lead scientist Andrew Rodda said the lack of repair, or regrowth is due mainly to the toxic environment left behind after nerve death. "Nerve cells are sensitive, and will only grow in the most supportive of environments," he said.
Rodda added: "After injury, new cells cannot normally penetrate into the empty space left after mass cell death.
Cells clump at the edges, forming an impenetrable barrier.
This leaves the centre of the wound as a lesion, which contains chemicals that kill growing nerves."
According to the scientists, the biomaterial works by providing a temporary scaffold on which new cells can grow and penetrate the lesion.
Significantly, it was the helper cells, known as astrocytes, which were the first to move into the implanted gel. These cells secrete beneficial chemicals, which may have helped create an environment in which the delicate nerve cells can survive.