3D Printed ‘Scaffolds’ may Help Damaged Nerves Grow Back

Sep 23, 2015

Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota

By Alexandra Ossola

After a traumatic injury like a car crash or a severe bacterial infection, patients can often suffer from painful and sometimes even paralyzing nerve damage. This damage is long lasting, because nerves regenerate slowly, if at all. Now a team of researchers has devised a way to 3D print customized scaffolds that help nerves regenerate, according to a paper published today in the journalAdvanced Functional Materials.

Given the length of time it takes for nerves to grow back, scientists have turned to other types of procedures to try to repair damaged nerves. These are often grafts, which are nerves taken from other, healthy places in the body and positioned around the damaged nerves to take their place. But these procedures aren’t ideal because the patient needs two surgeries, often feels pain at the donor site, and sometimes the patient’s body even rejects the graft. More recently, researchers have experimented with nerve guidance channels, which are cylinders made of bio-compatible materials that encourage nerve grow. Though these have more flexibility than nerve grafts, they can only help nerves grow in a straight line, which doesn’t help nerves damaged in “large, geometrically complex injuries,” the study authors write.

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