Richard Borgens and his team from the Center for Paralysis Research at the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine have discovered that chitosan can repair damaged nerve cell membranes. In doing so, the repaired membranes of nerve cells can re-establish the spinal cord's ability to transmit signals to the brain, thus restoring motor abilities.
“Chitosan (pronounced /ˈkaɪtɵsæn/) is a linear polysaccharide composed of randomly distributed β-(1-4)-linked D-glucosamine (deacetylated unit) and N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (acetylated unit).” It is produced commercially by deacetylation of chitin, a derivative of glucose. Chitin can be found in crabs, lobsters, shrimps, insects, squid, octopuses and cell walls of fungi to name a few.
Firstly, the researchers converted chitin to chitosan. They then isolated and compressed a segment of a guinea pig’s spinal cord. Following this, they applied chitosan and a fluorescent dye into the cells through damaged membranes. All of the neurons in the spinal cord tissue remained unstained by the dye under the microscope. While measuring the guinea pig’s brain response, it was noted that signals could not reach the brain because of the damaged spinal cord. “However, 30•min after injecting chitosan into the rodents, the signals miraculously returned to the animals' brains.” Hence, the nerve cells had been successfully repaired.
Borgens and his team also discovered that the levels of LDH leakage from the spinal cord tissue treated with chitosan were lower than those in undamaged spinal cords. “Lactate dehydrogenase catalyzes the interconversion of pyruvate and lactate with concomitant interconversion of NADH and NAD+. It converts pyruvate, the final product of glycolysis to lactate when oxygen is absent or in short supply, and it performs the reverse reaction during the cori cycle in the liver.” Understanding the function of LDH is quite complex, however, in layman’s terms, high levels of LDH are an indication of tissue breakdown or necrosis.
In addition, the researchers uncovered that the sugar repaired any damaged portions of the cell membrane, not only the compressed portion. During their studies, they also found that chitosan could likely be used to repair mitochondrial membranes. “Mitochondria have been implicated in several human diseases, including mitochondrial disorders and cardiac dysfunction, and may play a role in the aging process.” Could further research lead to developing treatments for certain genetic disorder and neurodegenerative diseases?
First Evidence That Chitosan Could Repair Spinal Damage