London: For the first time, scientists have
been able to force nerve cells to grow through tiny tubes, a
breakthrough they say could lead to new therapies that will
allow people with spinal injuries to walk again.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin in the US
created tiny tubes made of silicon and germanium. They are
small enough for a nerve cell to grab on to, but not too big
so that it can fit all the way inside.
Led by Madison Yu, the researchers then coated the tubes
-- which closely resembled the outer sheath that covers normal
cells -- with nerve cells from mice and studied for any
reaction, a newspaper reported.
It was found that the nerve cells didn`t sit there
lazily. Instead they began to send their tendrils through the
tunnels, like they were searching for a route to something, or
In some cases they actually followed the curves of the
tubes, which theoretically means that the nerves could in the
future be grown into structures and studied further, the
Prior to the study, it had been know that nerves have a
seek feature but the reason for this is currently unknown.
But the Wisconsin team are now hoping to find the
solution by setting up nerve cells to follow pre-planned
routes through the tubes.
They will then install a listening device to record any
electrical emissions and attempt to record a "conversation"
They hope that this will lead to a way to connect a
computer to a group of nerve cells to re-establish
communication if it has been disrupted.
The ultimate goal is to get the computer to serve as a
relay allowing those who can no longer walk to regain their