Patients with nerve injury or disease could potentially benefit from a new 3D-printed guide developed to help grow injury-damaged nerves.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins University collaborated on the study, published recently in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, according to a media release from the University of Minnesota.
Using a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques, the research team created a custom silicone guide implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration, according to the release. They then tested its effectiveness on rats.
To achieve their results, the research team used a 3D scanner to reverse engineer the structure of a rat’s sciatic nerve. They then used a specialized, custom-built 3D printer to print a guide for regeneration. Incorporated into the guide were 3D-printed chemical cues to promote both motor and sensory nerve regeneration. The guide was then implanted into the rat by surgically grafting it to the cut ends of the nerve. Within about 10 to 12 weeks, the rat’s ability to walk again was improved, the release explains.
University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, states in the release that this study represents an important proof of concept of the 3D printing of custom nerve guides for the regeneration of complex nerve injuries.
“Someday we hope that we could have a 3D scanner and printer right at the hospital to create custom nerve guides right on site to restore nerve function,” he adds.
McAlpine notes in the release that previous studies have shown regrowth of linear nerves, but this is the first time a study has shown the creation of a custom guide for regrowth of a complex nerve like the Y-shaped sciatic nerve that has both sensory and motor branches.
“The exciting next step would be to implant these guides in humans rather than rats,” McAlpine adds.
In cases where a nerve is unavailable for scanning, McAlpine says there could someday be a “library” of scanned nerves from other people or cadavers that hospitals could use to create closely matched 3D-printed guides for patients, according to the release.
[Source(s): University of Minnesota, Science Daily]