Nerve injuries are incredibly difficult to repair. Regrowth of nerve tissue is complex, and getting the right connections made makes recovery from injury or disease very rare. Researchers may have come up with an approach to solve this problem.
Scientists used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing to repair a rat’s sciatic nerve. The task was difficult in that it involved both sensory nerves and nerves used for muscle control. The researchers used 3D printing to create a hollow guide made of silicone. The device had embedded chemical cues to guide the growth of the different types of nerve tissue. It was then implanted in a rat and grafted onto the cut ends of the nerves. In 10 to 12 weeks, the rat was able to walk better.
According to the researchers, this is the first time that a Y-shaped nerve has been regrown using a custom guide. The project was a combined effort on the part of the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland, Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins University. While it is too soon to know if this new technique will be effective in other uses, it does hold out some hope for the 200,000 people in the U.S. who suffer nerve damage each year, either through injury or disease.