C. Edward Ebert, Ph.D.
The management of peripheral nerve injury presents a challenge to both patient and surgeon. For gaps of greater than 2 cm, nerve autografts have been the best option, though this requires donor tissue. Recent investigations suggest that conduits filled with hydrogel materials may improve injury management. A keratin-derived hydrogel has provided promising results as an inexpensive and abundant treatment equivalent to nerve autografts, although the specific mechanism has yet to be elucidated.
My research centers on investigating the biochemical mechanisms by which keratin promotes nerve cell regeneration. Recent studies have shown that a solution of keratin-derived materials placed in the gap of a severed peripheral nerve can recruit Schwann cells which then differentiate into nerve cells and re-grow the nerve across the gap. Although the specific mechanism by which this occurs is currently unknown, an integrin-mediated pathway is suspected. We are in the process of discovering the binding motif(s) present in the keratin materials that are responsible for the initiation of the regenerative process as well as which keratin(s) are responsible for the various stages of regeneration. The ultimate goal is to find a method of treatment to restore native nerve function to those who have experience peripheral nerve injury.