Nav: Home

Polymerized estrogen shown to protect nervous system cells

October 23, 2019

TROY, N.Y. -- Spinal cord damage that causes paralysis and reduced mobility doesn't always stop with the initial trauma, but there are few treatment options to halt increased deterioration -- and there is no cure. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a promising new biomaterial that could offer targeted treatment to the damaged spinal cord and tissue, preventing further damage.

In research published today in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Rensselaer demonstrated how estrogen -- a natural hormone produced in the body -- can be polymerized into a slow-releasing biomaterial and applied to nervous system cells to protect those cells and even promote regeneration.

"Estrogen is known to be neuroprotective," said Ryan Gilbert, a professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer and a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). "After spinal cord injury, you have all these free radicals that are released and cause the injury to increase over time. We're trying to stop the spread of the injury. It's more of an acute phase treatment we are looking to develop."

By observing nature's methods of protection, Gilbert partnered with Edmund Palermo, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer, to develop a polymer that -- when implanted directly on the spinal cord -- would target the injured tissue and release estrogen as a therapeutic over a period of years.

The approach is more precise than traditional drugs that often impact the entire system and may induce side effects in other organs.

"Using natural materials in ways that release it, or introduce it, to tissue in interesting ways can really have a lot of benefit, and that's what we're seeing in our work here," Gilbert said.

Conventional methods for making drugs into polymers, known as polypro drugs, weren't ideal for this application, so Palermo and his team developed a new approach. They used a photo-triggered chemical method to synthesize the estrogen into long polymer chains that -- using electric force -- could be spun into fibers necessary for implantation along the spinal cord.

In order to test these newly synthesized fibers, Gilbert and his team applied nervous system cells like neurons and astrocytes to the polymerized estrogen. Through this cellular lab testing, the researchers found that estrogen wasn't only neuroprotective, but also might promote regeneration.

"This was the first time polyestrogen was processed into fibers that showed the ability to enhance the outgrowth of neural cells along the fiber direction without adding growth factors," Palermo said.

The team's new approach is now being patented and will enable the researchers to push their exploration even further toward preclinical research, where they can see how their polymerized fibers would work in a living system. Their eventual goal is to vastly improve the lives of people with spinal cord injuries.

Their findings will also help advance research in the area of drug delivery, which is increasingly focused on personalization and precision.

"Precision medicine is a research priority within CBIS," said Deepak Vashishth, director of CBIS, a research center that brings faculty from multiple disciplines together to solve challenging global problems. "What our researchers have developed here has the potential to advance a previously intractable challenge."

"The type of synthetic chemistry that we developed is broadly applicable to the slow release of many other drugs," Palermo said.

"Drug delivery to the injured spinal cord is a really challenging issue," Gilbert said. "I think the next stage of drug delivery will be very focused treatments that can be applied directly to the injured spinal cord so that side effects are greatly reduced."
Devan Puhl and Anthony D'Amato, graduate students in the department of biomedical engineering and in CBIS, and Samuel Ellman, a graduate student in the department of materials science and engineering, all contributed to this research.

The work was supported, in part, by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NSF CAREER grants, and a grant from the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Board.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America's first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Related Estrogen Articles:

Estrogen's opposing effects on mammary tumors in dogs
Estrogen's role in canine mammary cancer is more complex than previously understood, according to new research led by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Placenta transit of an environmental estrogen
The human foetus is considered to be particularly sensitive to environmental contaminants.
Estrogen improves Parkinson's disease symptoms
Brain-selective estrogen treatment improves the symptoms of Parkinson's disease in male mice, according to new research published in JNeurosci.
The sneaky way estrogen drives brain metastasis in non-estrogen-dependent breast cancers
University of Colorado Cancer Center study shows that while estrogen doesn't directly affect triple-negative breast cancer cells, it can affect surrounding brain cells in ways that promote cancer cell migration and invasiveness
Estrogen made by neurons important to making memories
Estrogen in the brain is important to keep neurons communicating and memories being made, scientists report.
New study demonstrates effectiveness and safety of vaginal estrogen
Despite its proven effectiveness in treating the genital symptoms of menopause, low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy remains underused largely because of misperceptions regarding its safety.
Hidden estrogen receptors in the breast epithelium
EPFL scientists have uncovered that next to estrogen receptor positive and negative there are cells with very low amounts of the receptor protein.
Anxious and forgetful after menopause? Low estrogen may be to blame
Lack of estrogen may play a role in the development of anxiety and memory problems, according to a new rodent study.
Estrogen may protect against depression after heart attack
Estrogen may protect against heart failure-related depression by preventing the production of inflammation-causing chemicals in the brain.
Estrogen could promote healthy development of preterm infants
Premature birth alters the balance of interneurons in the cerebral cortex that can be restored with estrogen treatment, according to a study of human brain tissue and preterm rabbits published in JNeurosci.
More Estrogen News and Estrogen Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at