A compound from tamarind tree could help spur the growth of damaged brain and spinal cord nerve cells, which characterises diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Doctoral student Andrew Rodda from Monash University’s materials engineering team investigated xyloglucan, a compound from tamarind seeds and how it affects animals with damaged nerves.
The derivative that Rodda developed from xyloglucan can be injected into an injury site as a liquid, before becoming a gel as it reaches body temperature.
Once in place, it acts as a support structure through which healthy cells can migrate and potentially reattach themselves to the nervous system.
Until now, all damage to the nerve cells of the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – had been considered irreparable, according to a Monash statement.
Rodda said the lack of repair or regrowth is due mainly to the toxic environment left behind after nerve death. “Nerve cells are sensitive, and will only grow in the most supportive of environments.”
“After injury, new cells cannot normally penetrate into the empty space left after mass cell death. Cells clump at the edges, forming an impenetrable barrier. This leaves the centre of the wound as a lesion, which contains chemicals that kill growing nerves.”
Rodda said the new compound works by providing a temporary scaffold on which new cells can grow and penetrate the lesion.
Significantly, it was the helper cells, known as astrocytes, which were the first to move into the implanted gel. These cells secrete beneficial chemicals, which may have helped create an environment in which the delicate nerve cells can survive.