Glowing nerve cells
Scientists have developed a way to make nerves glow in mice. The technique could help avoid accidental damage to nerves in surgery.
Researchers injected fragments of fluorescent proteins into mice. The proteins preferentially bind to nerve tissue and so cause it to glow, making nerves stand out from the surrounding tissue. The protein even binds to nerves that have been damaged or servered, so long as they retain a blood supply.
Surgeons usually identify nerves by their appearance and location to nearby tissue structures, but thin and buried nerves can be missed. The position and appearance of nerves can also be altered if nerves are invaded by a tumour or in areas of infection and injury.
The new technique clearly alerts surgeons to nerves, helping to avoid accidental damage which can cause numbness, chronic pain and paralysis in patients. The fluorescent protein could also be used in surgery to repair injured nerves.
The fluorescent effect occurs within two hours and lasts for up to eight hours. It has no lasting side-effects on the nerves. Researchers further tested the fluorescent proteins on human tissue, with similar results. They are now working towards human clinical trials.