Professor Samuel Stupp started his research in regenerative medicine about ten years or so ago but has worked with and researched in the field of molecular biology for far longer. Today he is Director of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine (IBNAM) at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he leads a highly successful thirty-strong research team.
Spinal injury is one of many important areas with which Professor Stupp and his research group are working. It is usually younger people who are involved in serious accidents that lead to spinal injuries. The consequences are often catastrophic for both the individual and the family, and the cost to society is usually very high and most often lifelong.
To date Professor Samuel Stupp has conducted his research on mice and obtained good results. The treatment involves injecting a liquid substance with special properties into the spine. The material´s negatively charged molecules then combine with the blood´s positively charged calcium and sodium ions. The result is a tubular structure of nanofibres that attract nerve cells and recreate connections in the material of the body to be repaired.
Professor Stupp and his team have thus succeeded in restoring mobility to paralysed mice. The injection of nanofibres into their spines causes the nerve tissue to start growing. Six weeks after the operation, they are able to walk once again. “I see real opportunities to regenerate tissues in organs in adult humans in the future," says Professor Stupp. “It could impact the quality of life for many people, and also reduce costs for medical care."
Professor Stupp´s research results on mice have also shown that with the right treatment, mice with Parkinson´s can regain a considerable degree of both mobility and bodily functions after a few months´ treatment. He explains that his research could well become a significant benefit to the growing proportion of older people in modern society. “The older we get, the greater our care needs since the number of illnesses increases with age. Using active treatment to reduce the effects of conditions such as Parkinson´s or Alzheimer´s would be fantastic for both the patient´s quality of life and cost to society since care for the ailing is a major cost," explains Professor Stupp.
Professor Stupp also conducts research into the possibility of regenerating cartilage. “Cartilage does not, for some reason, regenerate in the human body after the age of 18 or 20," says Professor Stupp. “And knee prosthesis is a very complicated surgery with long recovery, therefore a costly operation for society as well as the patients involved," explains Professor Stupp. “If we could succeed in regenerating cartilage, we could also work in preventing diseases to a larger extent in order to avoid surgery later on in life. When it comes to knee operations for instance, it would be successful if we could find a way to prevent these kinds of operations," explains Professor Stupp. “The same goes for amputations. If we could learn how to regenerate bones, we could also avoid amputation. That could really improve quality of life for a lot of people all around the world," explains Professor Stupp.
The new agreement on cooperation between the University of Gothenburg and Northwestern University in Chicago was signed on December 8 at a formal yet warm ceremony. The agreement was signed by Professor Samuel Stupp and Olle Larkö, Dean of the Sahlgrenska Academy. The ceremony was attended by twenty or so people with connections to the University of Gothenburg, GöteborgBIO and some of the major pharmaceutical companies in Göteborg.
In practical terms, the agreement signals the official start of already launched cooperation in the field of biomaterials between the University of Gothenburg and Northwestern University of Chicago. However, it also signals the start of a fresh joint venture in the field of neuroscience and there is considerable future scope for extended cooperation within other research spheres too.
Like Göteborg, Chicago is a city that was long an industrial centre but is now undergoing major changes. In Chicago just as in Göteborg there is a long tradition of research, development and entrepreneurship in the fields of biomaterials and regenerative medicine. Both cities have the stated policy of investing in a wide range of operational areas today so as to be able to maintain sustainable growth tomorrow. Closer cooperation between the two cities is therefore highly welcome.
The biomaterials field is thus a highly significant industry for the future growth and both cities are now working together to face an exciting future.
Professor Samuel Stupp is a Board of Trustees professor of materials science, chemistry and medicine and the Director of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine at Northwestern University in Evanston and Chicago, US. He is a member of the editorial board for Soft Matter. He specialises in molecular self-assembly and his many research interests include developing biomaterials for regenerative medicine.
Regenerative medicine works on replacing damaged or ailing human biological material (cells, organs, body parts) with new biological components.
Text: Helene Jaktling