Tissue engineering to model and repair the nervous system.
European Cells and Materials, 18(Supp 2),
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Repairing the damaged nervous system is one of the greatest challenges facing regenerative medicine. Research into nervous system repair can be separated into two broad areas covering the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Damage to peripheral nerves can lead to loss of sensation, motor function and muscle weakness, but the PNS is capable of significant spontaneous regeneration and in many cases some function can be restored. In contrast, neuronal regeneration following damage to the CNS is generally unsuccessful and injuries can cause permanent paralysis and loss of sensation. Tissue engineering approaches have been developed to tackle both PNS and CNS repair. For the PNS, a wide range of conduits have been explored, many of which aim to function as an alternative to an autograft. They provide an environment in which regenerating neurites can grow from the proximal stump across a gap in a damaged nerve, allowing them to penetrate the distal stump and eventually re-innervate target tissues. These conduits are engineered therefore to provide guidance and support as well as physical protection at the repair site. For the CNS, particularly the spinal cord, tissue engineered devices have been developed that provide a permissive environment for neuronal growth. However, having traversed the repair site, neurons generally fail to re-enter the surrounding CNS tissue due largely to the formation of an inhibitory interface (the glial scar) at the boundary of the implant. An exciting new area of neuroscience where tissue engineering is pivotal is the development of advanced 3-dimensional (3D) cell culture models. These are starting to fill the gulf that has traditionally existed between simple cell culture systems and whole animal or tissue slice approaches and are providing new insights into cellular neuroscience.
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