Nanotechnology Shows Great Promise For Restoring Sight
NWN Speaks to Lead Researcher and MIT Professor Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, Ph.D., About This Exciting Research.This month, scientists at MIT and Hong Kong University reported that they were able to restore sight to hamsters, and hope that their technique holds a future in reconstructive brain surgery. The scientific team first mimicked the effects of a traumatic brain injury by severing the optical nerve tract in hamsters, causing them to lose vision. After injecting the hamsters with a solution containing nanoparticles, the nerves redeveloped and sight was returned to the hamsters. The sight was restored because the nanoparticles inside the hamster's brain instinctively interweaved into an array of nanofibres, thus successfully bridging the gap between the severed nerves.
Brain injury research is the center of the work conducted by Professor Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, PhD, Lead Researcher for this project at MIT, and his lab. His group focuses on how to reconnect the disconnected parts of the brain due to traumatic injury or stroke. “I have been interested in using nanotechnology to repair the brain for quite a while because I thought the size of the material would allow it to interact with the extracellular matrix sugars in the brain. There is a lot more it happening at the nanoscale than we thought, or had been able to see up to this point,” he explained to NWN.
Nanotechnology has proven to be very important to Rutledge and the framework he has developed to approach brain injury. “We feel that they [nanoscale technologies] are important because nanoscale self-assembled materials that do not covalently bond, but self-assemble with weak ionic interactions and van der Waal’s interactions, will not only allow the material to self-assemble in vivo but will also disassemble and allow axons to go through the environment by the material. The material is made of a series of amino acids which occur naturally and the body has the ability to break them down without causing detrimental byproducts.”