Testing new treatment methods for spinal cord injuries

Researchers in Dr. Amgad Hanna’s Lab at UW–Madison are experimenting with new treatment options to help restore function after spinal cord injuries.

The treatment involves an injection of Interleukin-10, an anti-inflammatory protein, to a damaged nerve tissue site. In the standard method of application, the protein is injected and disperses throughout the system and is consequentially removed in a matter of hours. But UW–Madison researchers have employed the use of mineral coated micro-particles, laced with Interleukin-10, to create a sustained, localized release of the drug.

According to Dan Hellenbrand, a research assistant in the lab, the micro-particles remain at the injury site and keep the protein bioactive, which is essential for the sustained local release and therapeutic effect.

A micro-particle is basically a small polymer-like particle that are coated with a calcium phosphate, and the calcium phosphate is actually what the protein binds to, that’s what keeps them at the injury site,” Hellenbrand says.

Following a spinal cord injury, secondary damage occurs from over-inflammation of the injured tissue. Interleukin-10 supports the recovery of the tissue by reducing proinflammatory cytokines that cause the tissue to inflame.

Hellenbrand and his associates test the treatment on rats, which receive a contusion to the spine. Following the injury, the rats are injected with the protein-laced micro-particles and are observed for signs of recovery.

“In this case we looked at one month after injury. All rats do regain the ability to walk, but I’d say if they are left alone and don’t have a treatment, their walking is extremely poor. And with the treatment they’re walking very close to normal.”

The Hanna Lab coordinates about two to three research projects at a time, and uses the assistance of about a dozen undergraduate students on projects as well as two medical students at most times. 

The micro particles come from another lab on campus, Dr. William Murphy’s lab in biomedical engineering. The researchers in the Hannah Lab regularly partner with Murphy’s lab on projects.