Biology of Aging
Spinal cord injury (SCI) affects many organs and systems. In interplay with age, environment and personal factors it may result in various health conditions. Our group investigates the underlying biological mechanisms of such conditions and the possibilities for new therapies. We provide biological research for health maintenance of people with SCI by exploring the biology of aging as core research approach.
We are committed to translational and clinically oriented biological research in several fields relevant to SCI:
- development of a national SCI biobank including all SCI centres of Switzerland;
- infection and immunity in people with SCI;
- biology of back pain and regenerative medicine of the intervertebral disc; and
- collaborative research with psychologists on biology of pain and stress.
Our focus on the biology of aging for health maintenance is reflected in various teaching activities and supervision of students at the universities of Lucerne and Bern.
The Swiss Biobank for spinal cord Iinjury
Spinal cord injury (SCI) can accelerate the onset of common multifactorial diseases. Survival of persons with SCI still remains below that of the general population. The reason for this might be accelerated aging – to find this out, we need to understand better the physiology of aging in individuals with SCI. This knowledge will help us to increase the efficacy of interventions and possible preventative measures.
Given the ongoing exponential growth in the capacity of analytical technologies, we realized that it is time for current SCI biomedical research to collect prospective bio samples. By this, we will create best opportunity for future frontline research that truly impacts on clinical practice. Established in 2016, the SwiSCI Biobank in Nottwil is the first biobank in Switzerland and in the world which is dedicated to collecting biological material (currently blood and urine) from the SCI population. At the moment we collect samples from Swiss Paraplegic Centre Nottwil and we are in logistic pilot studies with the SCI centers in Sion, Basel, and Zurich.
The ultimate aim of the biobank is to increase life expectancy and quality of life of persons living with SCI. We anticipate that SwiSCI Biobank will be a strategic resource for collaborative interdisciplinary research in SCI and for the development of appropriate prevention strategies and future therapies. We are a member of the Swiss Biobanking Platform (SBP) and keep up to date of the Swiss, European, and international standards, assuring high quality of the samples stored in our biobank.
Immunosenescence in persons with spinal cord injury
Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs more often in young adults whereas non-traumatic SCI more often occurs in the older population. Virtually all patients suffer from neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction. As a consequence, the prevalence of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI) as well as bacteriuria is higher in the SCI population compared with the population as a whole. Bacterial invasion triggers the secretion of pro-inflammatory molecules which constantly stimulate the immune system and may possibly contribute to inflammation-promoted aging.
We want to find out if recurrent UTI affects the immune system in people with SCI and generates a vicious circle between infections and aging. Furthermore, we want to clarify if prophylactic novel treatments of UTI and bacteriuria – such as treatments through vaccination or modification of the immune system – should be applied.
Cell therapy for degenerative disc disease
The trauma of the spine can lead to degenerative changes in the spinal vertebra and in the intervertebral disks (IVD) which act as cushions providing spine mobility and distributing forces.
Our hypothesis is that mesenchymal stem cell therapy for IVD repair can be accomplished but requires an interdisciplinary approach. We follow this approach to bridge the gap between basic research and applications aimed at the repair of degenerated IVD by studying
- the biology of the IVD,
- tissue engineering with mesenchymal stem cells,
- the biomechanics of the IVD,
- and the translation of the recent advances in these fields into new clinical practices.
The close interaction of biological, engineering and surgical competences will help to overcome problems that interfere with the clinical implementation of basic IVD research advances.