CLEMSON A Clemson University researcher will use a $1.6-million grant to pursue an innovative way to ease the disability and pain experienced by 200,000 Americans.
Clemson bioengineer Xuejun Wen is seeking ways to repair spinal cord nerves. Each year, 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries or other central nervous system (CNS) disabilities that can be permanent and paralyzing. Current treatments fall short of sparking a robust regenerative process that leads to a decent degree of functional recovery.
Assistant professor Xuejun Wen wants to change that situation. He will use his five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) for research in tissue engineering aimed at spinal cord regeneration.
"We've observed the promise of tissue regenerating itself," said Wen. "This has potential for use in repairing acute and chronic damage, such as in spinal cord injuries or in diseases such as Parkinson's."
Wen proposes to awaken the ability of spinal cord nerve bundles to regenerate through a controlled environment created by an implantable bridging device. By mimicking the spinal cord, using biomaterials and scaffolds along with therapeutic agents loaded in nanostructured biomaterials, scar formation at the lesion site will be inhibited and nerve bundle growth will be promoted.
Wen is a faculty member in the Clemson bioengineering department and works in Charleston in the Clemson University-Medical University of South Carolina (CU-MUSC) bioengineering program. Previously, he has looked at ways to manipulate the microenvironment of the brain to improve the long-term life of transplanted healthy, human dopamine-producing neurons to treat Parkinson's disease. His past research has led to international recognition and funding from such organizations as the Michael J. Fox Foundation.