Nanorobots being Developed to Regenerate Damaged Cells
Stem cells can produce new cells that in turn regenerate many different types of damaged cells. Various researchers are working on nanotechnology methods for regenerating damaged organs or nerves by placing stem cells in damaged tissue.
Simply injecting stem cells into damaged tissue is inefficient because stem cells can wander from the spot where they’re placed. Researchers are finding that therapy is much more effective if they attach the stem cells to nanofibers and then inject the nanofibers at the precise location of the damaged cells.
This method could be very helpful to patients recovering from heart attacks. Heart attacks damage heart cells, reducing the capability of the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Normally, these damaged cells cannot recover, which leaves the option of heart transplants when enough damage has occurred.
Experiments with lab animals have shown that damaged hearts show significantly better recovery after being treated with nanofibers to which stem cells have been attached. The nanofibers are made of biodegradable material that dissolves, leaving behind regenerated tissue.
Researchers call these nanomaterials scaffolds. Different types of nanomaterial are being used as scaffolds. Some researchers are using nanofibers made of polymers, and other research groups are using nanofibers made of biological molecules, such as peptides or proteins.
These scaffolds could be applied in various ways. For example, researchers working on regenerating heart tissue are injecting nanofibers and stem cells that self-assemble into a scaffold.
Another research group working on regenerating retinal cells is using a surgical procedure to implant a disk-like scaffold into the eye. To regenerate retinal cells to try to cure macular degeneration, researchers have found that they need to use this scaffolding to guide stem cells to let them know where to grow the new retinal cells.
At this time, researchers are working with scaffolds at the micro level. The plan is to make scaffolds with details on the nano level, which will make it possible to give new cells more guidance in forming their connections with existing cells in the eye.
Although this method is now being tested in lab animals and is years from being available for use in human patients, it has the potential for regenerating many types of tissue. Applications of this method could regenerate damaged spinal cords, cartilage in joints for relief of arthritis, and nerve cells in the brain to treat Parkinson’s disease.