Nerves damaged by traumatic accidents could be "re-grown"
Written by: Lisa Sheldon -
Research academics have devised a laser-based technique to help naturally repair nerves damaged by traumatic accidents.
Nerve guidance conduits (NGCs), the fruits of a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Laser Zentrum Hannover in Germany, could improve the odds of restoring sensation and movement in injured limbs.
NGC is based on laser direct writing, which enables the fabrication of complex structures from computer files by way of computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM). This has permitted the researchers to produce NGCs of exceptionally advanced design.
At present, a patient with severe nerve damage due to a traumatic accident suffers a loss of sensation and movement in the affected limb. The traditional solution, where possible, has been to surgically suture or graft together the nerve endings. However, complete recovery with this method tends to be uncertain.
"When nerves in the arms or legs are injured they have the ability to re-grow, unlike in the spinal cord; however, they need assistance to do this," said the University of Sheffield's Prof John Haycock.
"We are designing scaffold implants that can bridge an injury site and provide a range of physical and chemical cues for stimulating this re-growth."
The new conduit, which is formulated from a biodegradable synthetic polymer material, is designed to guide damaged nerves to re-grow through a number of small channels. The conduit biodegrades naturally once the nerve is fully re-grown.
The university's Dr Frederik Claeyssens said nerves are comprised of many small cables, similar to an electrical wire. "Using our new technique we can make a conduit with individual strands so the nerve fibres can form a similar structure to an undamaged nerve."
In laboratory experiments, nerve cells added to the polymer conduit grew naturally within its channelled structure.
Hoping that its approach will promote better recovery for a wide range of peripheral nerve injuries, the research team is now working towards clinical trials.
Dr Claeyssens anticipates developing scaffold implants for nerve damage other than peripheral injury. "The technique of laser direct writing may ultimately allow production of scaffolds that could help in the treatment of spinal cord injury.
"What's exciting about this work is that not only have we designed a new method for making nerve guide scaffolds which support nerve growth, we've also developed a method of easily reproducing them through micromolding. This technology could make a huge difference to patients suffering severe nerve damage."
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