Despite all of our advances in modern medicine, there are still diseases we cannot cure and injuries we cannot repair. Most notably, damage to the tissue in our brain and spinal cord are particularly devastating. Although research shows that the brain is capable of creating new connections and reorganizing itself, there is currently no way to take advantage of its regenerative capacity. One possibility seems to be the use of stem cells which offer great promise in the area of tissue regeneration. The only problem is that most of stem cells die after implantation. Molly Shoichet, University Professor at the University of Toronto, is developing materials that keep these cells alive after they are introduced into the body and help them to integrate into the existing circuitry of the brain or spinal cord to cure stroke, spinal cord injury, and even blindness.
The Shoichet Lab created a water-soluble material, or hydrogel, originally intended as a drug delivery system for the spinal cord. What they did not anticipate was that this material would also help to promote the survival of stem cells and even promote wound healing. They are now looking at applications for cell delivery to the retina to promote vision repair.