Scaffolds may improve nerve regrowth and restoration

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK have developed a method of assisting nerves damaged by traumatic accidents to repair naturally. This development could improve chances of restoring sensation and movement in injured limbs, according to a press release.

The traditional method for treating nerve damage is to surgically suture or graft the nerve endings together. However, not all patients are eligible for reconstructive surgery, and it often does not result in a complete recovery.

In this study, which was published in Biofabrication, the researchers used a method based on laser direct writing, the use of computer aided design and manufacturing, to develop nerve guidance conduits (NGCs). The NGCs are scaffolds made from a biodegradable synthetic polymer material based on polylactic acid and are designed to stimulate damaged nerves to regrow through a number of small channels. Once the nerve is fully regrown, the conduit biodegrades naturally.

“Nerves aren’t just like one long cable; they’re made up of lots of small cables, similar to how an electrical wire is constructed,” Frederik Claeyssens, PhD, lead author from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, stated in the release. “Using our new technique we can make a conduit with individual strands so the nerve fibers can form a similar structure to an undamaged nerve.”

In laboratory experiments, nerve cells added to the polymer conduit grew naturally within its channeled structure and the research team is now working towards testing the conduits in clinical trials.

“If successful, we anticipate these scaffolds will not just be applicable to peripheral nerve injury, but could also be developed for other types of nerve damage too. The technique of laser direct writing may ultimately allow production of scaffolds that could help in the treatment of spinal cord injury,” Claeyssens stated in the release.

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