A New Treatment Approach for Spinal Cord Injury

Johannes Dapprich, Elaine Brock, Jay Trautman, Jason Puchalla, Eve Tsai, William S. Brown
Princeton, NJ

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) afflicts 17,000 Americans and 700,000 people worldwide each year. Prognoses are often tragic, and social costs exceed $2M (U.S. and EU) in the first five years of care. For decades, the dream of repairing the spinal cord has been elusive. Recent studies, however, show that new axonal growth and formation of functional circuits are possible under the right conditions: a favorable biophysical environment in direct contact with surviving nerve endings. Chances for recovery increase greatly if such an environment can be provided rapidly after injury.

New Jersey-based NeuroPair’s fast and minimally invasive approach generates an injectable scaffold of aligned magnetic nanoparticles to create conditions for protecting, healing, and regrowing neurons that were damaged during SCI. The scaffold guides the direction of neuronal regrowth and may help enable recovery from SCI.

Because shape and condition of SCIs vary so much, one-size-fits-all approaches are very unlikely to succeed. NeuroPair’s injectable hydrogel formulation addresses these needs by perfectly filling any irregular shape of the injury site, generating a flexible fiber scaffold with cellular contact for neuronal regeneration within minutes, suppressing scar formation, and being compatible with other treatment options (such as stem cells, neuroprotective and bioactive growth factors, epidural stimulation, and MRI).

NeuroPair’s FibermagTM treatment would be applied after the initial, standard stabilization of SCI: The surgeon injects the sterile formulation into the injury site and places a ‘magnetic mouse’ (Figure 1a) directly on top of the injury site. The magnetic field assembles the particles into a non-toxic and biodegradable scaffold (Figure 1b). After five minutes, the field is removed, the scaffold is in place and remains stable yet flexible for weeks (Figure 2). The guided regrowth of axons and neurites along the magnetic fibers can be seen in vitro by brightfield and fluorescence microscopy over the course of several days and weeks (Figure 1b). The Fibermag formulation consists of commercially available core components (biocompatible magnetic nanoparticles and slow-release bioactive factors in a hyaluronic acid-based gel).

According to the NeuroPair team, their products could be easily integrated into treatment by neurosurgeons who presently treat SCI. The key elements of their technology that neurosurgeons find attractive are it: 1) provides an injectable scaffold, 2) conforms to the irregular shape of an injury, 3) suppresses scar formation, 4) provides a favorable environment for regrowth, and most importantly 5) is fast and minimally invasive (no surgical resection of the cord is needed).

In the U.S., there are approximately 600 neurosurgeons who recommend treatments, drugs, and medical devices for purchase by their institutions, making the marketing for our products focused and much simpler than for other therapeutics. Military and veterans’ hospitals in particular will benefit from NeuroPair’s products, as the occurrence of SCI among active duty service members is 7-20 times higher than for civilians.

Many SCI patients are lifelong recipients of Medicare and Medicaid support, leading to U.S. social costs exceeding $51B each year. According to the NeuroPair team, restoring patients’ quality of life and functionality, their products can potentially reduce U.S. healthcare costs by 3 percent.

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