Graphene nanoribbons developed by Rice University through a special process is holding great promise in terms of healing damaged spinal cords of affected people.

Researchers were able to demonstrate using Texas-PEG in joining damaged or severed spinal cords at the animal level.

Rice University's chemist James Tour is too excited about the potential of Texas-PEG's potential in healing patients with spinal cord injuries. A paper on the preliminary tests was published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

"Our goal is to develop this as a way to address spinal cord injury. We think we're on the right path," Tour said.

The graphene nanoribbons was customized for medical use by William Sikkema, a graduate student at Rice University and a co-lead author of the paper.

The Texas-PEG recorded its big success story by restoring the failed spinal functions of a rodent with a ruptured spinal cord. The operation was performed by Bae Hwan Lee and C-Yoon Kim at the Konkuk University in South Korea. They are also the co-authors of the paper.

In the rodent experiment, Texas-PEG was able to successfully relay the motor and sensory neuronal signals, 24 hours after its complete breakdown from the ruptured spinal cord. Adding to the feat was full motor control recovery after two weeks.

The scientists also made Texas-PEG able to conduct electricity by exposing it to highly soluble polyethylene glycol (PEG).

Pioneering Experiment

Neuron growing along graphene, which has been demonstrated in many other research projects, is possible thanks to graphene's conductive surface property in stimulating neuronal growth.

"We're not the only lab that has demonstrated neurons growing on graphene in a petri dish," Tour said. He then explained the difference between their experiments and others.

Other labs were experimenting with water-soluble graphene oxide, which poorly conducts electricity if compared to graphene and other non-ribbonized graphene structures. The team went one step ahead and added water-solubilizing polymer chain to the edges of nanoribbons to achieve solubility, yet maintain the material's conductivity.

Tour said the innovation was a game changer and has expanded the use to other biomedical applications.

Tour called the new breakthrough as significant and a major advance over previous work that had a narrow focus with PEG. Also, the previous work did not result in drastic recovery in terms of sensory neuronal signals during the same period as in the new rodent experiment. Moreover, motor control recovery is just at 10 percent.

Meanwhile, efforts are progressing on expanding the medical use of graphene in many centers. In Italy, a team of scientists is harping on the antifungal action and antibacterial properties of graphene oxide, which is a carbon-derived compound. They have reported success in using them as a coating for catheters and medical tools as a way to reduce infections and cut down the use of antibiotics.

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