Injectable Hydrogels for Spinal Cord Repair: A Focus on Swelling and Intraspinal Pressure

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Abstract

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating condition that leaves patients with limited motor and sensory function at and below the injury site, with little to no hope of a meaningful recovery. Because of their ability to mimic multiple features of central nervous system (CNS) tissues, injectable hydrogels are being developed that can participate as therapeutic agents in reducing secondary injury and in the regeneration of spinal cord tissue. Injectable biomaterials can provide a supportive substrate for tissue regeneration, deliver therapeutic factors, and regulate local tissue physiology. Recent reports of increasing intraspinal pressure after SCI suggest that this physiological change can contribute to injury expansion, also known as secondary injury. Hydrogels contain high water content similar to native tissue, and many hydrogels absorb water and swell after formation. In the case of injectable hydrogels for the spinal cord, this process often occurs in or around the spinal cord tissue, and thus may affect intraspinal pressure. In the future, predictable swelling properties of hydrogels may be leveraged to control intraspinal pressure after injury. Here, we review the physiology of SCI, with special attention to the current clinical and experimental literature, underscoring the importance of controlling intraspinal pressure after SCI. We then discuss how hydrogel fabrication, injection, and swelling can impact intraspinal pressure in the context of developing injectable biomaterials for SCI treatment.

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