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Team Uses AI and Robotics to Treat Spinal Cord Injuries



A team of researchers at Rutgers University has employed artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to formulate therapeutic proteins. The team was able to successfully stabilize an enzyme that can degrade scar tissues resulting from spinal cord injuries. It can also promote tissue regeneration. 

The study was published in Advanced Healthcare Materials

Stabilizing the Enzyme

The enzyme stabilized by the team is Chondroitinase ABS (ChABC).

Adam Gormley is the principal investigator of the project and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering (SOE) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

“This study represents one of the first times artificial intelligence and robotics have been used to formulate highly sensitive therapeutic proteins and extend their activity by such a large amount. It’s a major scientific achievement,” Gormely said. 

According to Gormley, part of his motivation to complete this work comes from a personal connection to spinal cord injury.

“I’ll never forget being at the hospital and learning that a close college friend would likely never walk again after being paralyzed from the waist down after a mountain biking accident,” Gormely said. “The therapy we are developing may someday help people such as my friend lessen the scar on their spinal cords and regain function. This is a great reason to wake up in the morning and fight to further the science and potential therapy.”

Promoting Tissue Regeneration

Shashank Kosuri is a biomedical engineering doctoral student at Rutgers SOE and a lead author of the study. 

Kosuri highlights that spinal cord injuries can negatively impact the psychological, physical, and socio-economic well-being of patients and their families. Following one of these injuries, a secondary cascade of inflammation takes place, and this produces dense scar tissue. 

ChABC is able to degrade scar tissue molecules and promote tissue regeneration, but it is highly unstable at the human body temperature (98.6° F). At this temperature, it loses all activity within a few hours. 

Synthetic copolymers can wrap around ChABC and stabilize them in hostile microenvironments. The researchers stabilized the enzyme by using an AI-driven approach involving liquid handling robotics to synthesize and test the ability of copolymers to stabilize ChABC and maintain its activity at 98.6° F. 

The researchers succeeded at identifying several copolymers that performed well, and one copolymer retained 30% of the enzyme for up to one week. These results could have major implications on future care of spinal cord injuries. 

Alex McFarland is a Brazil-based writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence & blockchain. He has worked with top AI companies and publications across the globe.