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Advanced nerve cell system could help cure diabetic neuropathy, related diseases

Posted Nov 17 2009 10:20pm
Physorg.com
June 23rd, 2009

Multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, and other conditions caused by a loss of myelin insulation around nerves can be debilitating and even deadly, but adequate treatments do not yet exist. That's in large part because of deficiencies in model research systems. In an upcoming issue of the journal Biomaterials, a UCF team addresses this problem with a report on the first lab-grown motor nerves that are insulated and organized the same way they are in the body.

The group's model system, along with further advances now within reach, could dramatically improve understanding of the causes of myelin-related conditions, and enable discovery and testing of new drug therapies.

Nerve malfunctions, or neuropathies, involve a breakdown in the way the brain sends and receives electric signals along nerve cells. In mammals, these signals are able to travel long distances because of breaks in their myelin insulation called nodes of Ranvier, each of which chemically boosts the signal, allowing it to travel to the next node. "They're like power station relays," says James Hickman, a bioengineer at UCF who led the new research, which achieved the first successful nodes of Ranvier formation ever on motor nerves in a lab culture, among other advances.

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