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Nanotechnology Can Help Crippled Mice Walk Again

One could call the latest advance in nanotechnology -- repairing the spinal cords of paralyzed mice so they now have partial use of their rear legs -- completely miraculous.

A team of scientists at Northwestern University injected injured mice with a liquid filled with tiny molecular structures that sent signals to stem cells within their bodies. Over the course of six weeks, those signals prevented the stem cells in mice from becoming glial cells, structures that block a body's ability to heal, regenerate and grow.

Instead, those nanoparticles helped their tiny bodies transmit signals that turned those stem cells into neurons, ordering axons (fibers extending from nerve cells to other cells that allow our bodies, for example, to walk properly) to grow. And, perhaps, unlike other nanotechnologies being tested, this specific treatment was completely biodegradable (the structures disappeared from the bodies of mice within weeks) and involved no drugs or surgery.

This discovery has prompted research into other areas like Parkinson's disease and given rise to thoughts about "a strategic marriage" between nanotechnology and conventional medicine, a prospect about which I'm not terribly happy, especially if has anything to do with the deceptive.

The best possible scenario of all: Nanotechnology working in concert with natural, more safer therapies and not replacing them.

ABC News May 1, 2007