Scientists have Made Nerves RegrowNerves cannot regrow. Or so went common knowledge for years. Now, though, scientists have managed to coax nerves to repair damage done to them. Imagine being able to regain control over a limb after a paralyzing trauma. That is what is being offered here.
The new technique relies on a piece of technology called Nerve Guidance Conduits, or NGC’s. A NGC does exactly what it sounds like: it guides the growth of nerves along a path. The study used computer-based printing to create complicated grids of NGC’s, meaning that the neural fabric could be made significantly more dense than before. That density, in turn, means more complexity, which means more replication of your existing neural fabric.
The NGC’s are made by laser direct writing, basically micro-CAD with a tiny laser cutter.
This technology would be a replacement to existing nerve repair surgeries, which tie severed nerve ends to whatever is available. These procedures are able to restore a part of the functionality, but often a large chunk is left out. Sometimes it is merely a bit feeling, but often the injury will leave limbs permanently impaired.
Explaining the role of the technology, University of Sheffield Professor of Bioengineering, John Haycock said:
"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. We are designing scaffold implants that can bridge an injury site and provide a range of physical and chemical cues for stimulating this regrowth."The major breakthrough with the technology is that NGC’s allow for the creation of strands of nerves, rather than one thick cable. Explaining the difference, lead author of the paper Dr Frederik Claeyssens, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said:
"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. 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."
And once the nerve connection is made, the biodegradable polymer is absorbed by the body, leaving just the connected nerves.
"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,” said Dr Claeyssens. “The technique of laser direct writing may ultimately allow production of scaffolds that could help in the treatment of spinal cord injury."And repairing spinal cord injuries might mean that the paralyzed can walk again. Big news indeed.