New technique may help severely damaged nerves regrow and restore function

Engineers at the University of Sheffield have developed a method of assisting nerves damaged by traumatic accidents to repair naturally, which could improve the chances of restoring sensation and movement in injured limbs.

In a collaborative study with Laser Zentrum Hannover (Germany) published today (23 April 2012) in the journal Biofabrication, the team describes a new method for making medical devices called nerve guidance conduits or NGCs.

The method is based on laser direct writing, which enables the fabrication of complex structures from computer files via the use of CAD/CAM (computer aided design/manufacturing), and has allowed the research team to manufacture NGCs with designs that are far more advanced than previously possible.

Currently patients with severe traumatic suffer a devastating loss of sensation and/or movement in the affected limb. The traditional course of action, where possible, is to surgically suture or graft the together. However, reconstructive surgery often does not result in complete recovery.

"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," says University of Sheffield Professor of , John Haycock. "We are designing scaffold implants that can bridge an injury site and provide a range of physical and for stimulating this regrowth."

The new conduit is made from a biodegradable synthetic based on polylactic acid and has been designed to guide damaged nerves to re-grow through a number of small channels.

"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," says lead author Dr Frederik Claeyssens, of the University's Department of . "Using our new technique we can make a conduit with individual strands so the can form a similar structure to an undamaged nerve."

Once the nerve is fully regrown, the conduit biodegrades naturally.

The team hopes that this approach will significantly increase recovery for a wide range of peripheral nerve injuries.

In laboratory experiments, nerve cells added to the polymer conduit grew naturally within its channelled structure and the research team is now working towards 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," says Dr Claeyssens.

"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," he adds. "This technology could make a huge difference to patients suffering severe nerve damage."

Provided by University of Sheffield

not rated yet

Related Stories

Race to nerve regeneration: faster is better

Oct 03, 2011

A team of researchers led by Clifford Woolf and Chi Ma, at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, Boston, has identified a way to accelerate the regeneration of injured peripheral nerves in mice such that ...

New discovery in nerve regrowth

Jul 12, 2010

Faculty of Medicine scientists have discovered a way to enhance nerve regeneration in the peripheral nervous system. This important discovery could lead to new treatments for nerve damage caused by diabetes or traumatic injuries. ...

Company Develops a New Approach to Nerve Repair

Mar 12, 2007

A new company, Neurotex Ltd, has been established to develop novel silk-based materials that have the potential to provide a new generation of nerve repair materials and treatments.

Nanomedicine opens the way for nerve cell regeneration

Jun 06, 2007

The ability to regenerate nerve cells in the body could reduce the effects of trauma and disease in a dramatic way. In two presentations at the NSTI Nanotech 2007 Conference, researchers describe the use of nanotechnology ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments