Author: Martin Walpot & Katharina Schwaiger
A Europe-wide project named “Piezo4Spine” sets the high goal of developing a novel therapy against spinal cord injuries (SCI). Based on the latest findings in materials science, regenerative medicine and nanotechnology, research is being conducted on a 3D-theramesh equipped with bioactive nanocarriers that delivers therapeutic agents to the site of the lesion through electrical stimulation. These bioactive ingredients activate the neuronal regeneration processes after an SCI has occurred. If successful, this technology could be useful in the future for pathologies such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, among others.
The Piezo4Spine initiative, endowed with 3.6 million euros through the Pathfinder funds of the European Union, is coordinated by the Institute of Materials Science of Madrid (ICMM) together with seven research centers from six European countries.
The goal of the project is to try to understand spinal cord injury better and use this knowledge to provide a therapeutic solution for spinal cord injuries. For this, two specific targets have been considered to which the scientific community has not given sufficient importance up to now: Piezo mechanoreceptors and fibroblasts that participate in response to neural damage.
Promoting the regeneration of nerve cells
The first area of Piezo4Spine therapy targets mechanotransduction, the capacity of our cells and tissues to feel and respond to mechanical stimuli. Just as cells are sensitive to chemical and biological stimuli, they feel mechanical movements. Therefore, the aim of the project is to precisely investigate these physiological mechanical processes and how they are related to the functioning of neural tissue in a physiological and pathological state.
One of the special features of this project is that this is a pioneering science field. In fact, it was not until about a decade ago (2010) that the Piezomechoreceptors were discovered; a discovery that earned Ardem Patapoutian the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2021. Patapoutian identified for the first time these protein receptors that are located in the cell membrane and are capable of sensing mechanical vibrations and triggering specific cellular responses. It is these mechanical receivers, called ‘Piezo’, that represent the basis of this innovative work and its most revolutionary point. The scientists will have a closer look at their importance in pathological processes such as spinal cord injuries.
Blocking the formation of scar tissue
In addition to the study of Piezo receptors and their involvement in neural damage, the work proposes a second therapeutic pillar: developing genetic engineering tools to ‘modulate’ fibroblasts that participate in healing processes. These fibroblasts are one of the fastest responding cell types to ‘check and heal’ the damaged area of the body. However, this activation hinders the natural regeneration of damaged neural tissue, in this case, the spinal cord. For this reason, the consortium is going to work on blocking these fibroblasts, favoring the regenerative processes of the body itself.
Innovative 3D-teramesh nanocarrier technology
Throughout the project a three-dimensional matrix by 3D-bioprinting loaded with nano vehicles will be developed. This 3D-theramesh will deliver active therapeutics to the lesion. If successful, this project will allow access to new knowledge and technologies that could not only be useful for neural regeneration, but also for other pathologies such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease.