Injuries to the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — are particularly devastating because the body doesn’t regenerate neurons to repair connections between vital circuits and restore function. In other words, the damage is permanent or even fatal.
A variety of early studies in animals and humans indicate the field of neural regeneration research is advancing. A 20-year-old man in Naples, Florida recently enrolled in the first clinical trial to assess the ability of stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries. But, a team of scientists from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, are working an entirely different method to inject hope into an otherwise bleak prognosis.
Working with rat neurons grown in a petri dish in the laboratory, the team artificially connected two neurons using an atomic force microscope and tiny, polystyrene spheres. Though the work is an early proof-of-concept, it could lay the foundation for novel surgeries and therapies for people with brain and spinal damage.