Scar-eating enzyme helps repair spinal damage

A group of biomedical engineers believe they may have solved one of the thorniest issues involved in repairing spinal damage. They created an enzyme--chondroitinase ABC--that can eat through scar tissue, allowing the injured nerve to repair itself and heal the spine.

Starting with the knowledge that an unstable enzyme could do the work, the biomedical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University set out to engineer a new one. They combined the enzyme with a sugar for stability and then injected it into the spine using tiny straws kept in place with a special gel. And that approach worked in the injured spines of rats.

"The goal is that at the time the surgeon is removing the offending (vertebrae) bone after the injury you would inject this gel to sit on top of the injury site and prevent whatever new scar is forming," said Ravi Bellamkonda. But the researcher was also quick to point out that they had helped with just one piece of a complex puzzle. In order to repair damaged spines, scientists still have to stimulate nerve fiber growth that can communicate with the brain.

- read the story from Reuters