Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a debilitating condition that affects approximately 17,000 Americans each year. SCI primarily affects young adults between the ages of 16 and 30, which leads to lifelong medical and financial burdens. Despite improvements in emergent medical care in the last 30 years, SCI still results in a decreased quality-of-life and lower life expectancy for patients. This is due in part to the lack of a therapeutic approaches that support healing of injured spinal cords and return of function in the clinic. Recent efforts have investigated the delivery of stem cells to encourage spinal cord tissue regeneration after injury through the release of growth factors. Unfortunately, these therapies are greatly hindered due to poor cell survival which is often caused by forces exerted during the injection process.
Therefore, I propose an alternative strategy to encourage spinal cord regeneration through the delivery of synthetic “cells” that have been bioengineered to withstand injection forces that can cause cell death, as well as release important growth factors necessary for regeneration. My proposal seeks to first synthesize the designed synthetic “cells” and determine the optimal release conditions of loaded growth factors for enhanced nerve growth. Finally, I will evaluate the optimized release of growth factors from the injected synthetic “cells” in an animal model of SCI investigating both the regeneration of spinal cord tissue, as well as functional recovery. For patients suffering with SCI, where mild functional recovery could mean a vast quality-of-life improvement, an effective regeneration-focused therapy could be transformational.