(RxWiki News) Accidents cause many people to lose functionality in their limbs. They can’t feel it, or move it. Current methods to restore the limb have a low success rate, but a new method gives hope for the future.
Nerve guidance conduits (NGC) are tiny structures that could be placed in the body during reconstructive surgery.
The material can help nerves regrow properly then biodegrade naturally. The technology has only been tested in the lab, for now.
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"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 Frederik Claeyssens, PhD, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
"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."
"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 Bioengineering, John Haycock. "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 team used laser direct writing, a way to create complex structures using computer design applications and lasers, to create the tiny NGCs. The material that the structures are made from is biodegradable, so once the structures has helped the nerve cells regrow it should degrade naturally.
In lab experiments the structures were able to successfully aid in nerve cell regrowth, but the technology has not yet been used on trauma patients. The team is working towards designing clinical trials.
If everything goes well, the team expects the conduits to be available for patients within approximately five years. The cost to patients is expected to be similar to the costs of current nerve repair procedures.
The study was published April 22nd, 2012, in the journal Biofabrication and was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.