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3D Printed Guides May Help Improve the Repair of Damaged Nerves




Researchers at Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering recently published a paper that points to a new way to use 3D printing technology to help repair damaged nerves. The breakthrough research is excellent news for people who suffer from nerve damage because of the complications and limitations of current methods.

Difficulties of Traditional Methods

Repairing nerve damage often requires surgical autographs to build a bridge between damaged nerves. Autographs are often difficult to come by, while patients also run the risk of adverse side effects from donor tissue. Even with successful procedures, patients may experience a loss of sensation in the damaged area. Needless to say, grafting nerve endings is very difficult, and as a result surgical attempts are not always successful in repairing the damage.

3D Printed Conduits

The new method involves a nerve guidance conduit (NGC), which are a series of tiny tubes that help guide nerve ends towards each other, allowing them to fuse and repair in a natural way. Using Computer Aided Design (CAD), researchers designed the conduits using laser direct writing, which is a method of 3D printing. Probably the best news about the new method of nerve repair is that the technology can be tailor-fitted for individual patients and adapted for use in other types of nerve damage. Traditional methods of bridging nerve damage do not carry this level of flexibility, so it’s sometimes impossible to repair certain types of injuries.

3d printed guides Can repair damaged nerves 4

Future Research

Although the method hasn’t been tested in humans yet, the engineers paired up with Sheffield’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, who developed a mouse model to measure nerve regrowth. Their study demonstrated that the conduits could repair nerves with up to 3 mm of injury gap over a 21 day period.

John Haycok, a professor of Bioengineering at Sheffield said, “"The advantage of 3D printing is that NGCs can be made to the precise shapes required by clinicians. We've shown that this works in animal models, so the next step is to take this technique towards the clinic.”

Polyethylene glycol, the material used to produce the conduits, has already been approved for clinical use, so hopefully it won’t be long before human trials can begin.

Dr. Frederik Claeyssens, a lecturer in Biomaterials said, ”Further work is already underway to investigate device manufacture using biodegradable materials, and also making devices that can work across larger injuries.”

Their research findings were first published in the Biomaterials research journal.

"Now we need to confirm that the devices work over larger gaps and address the regulatory requirements," says Fiona Boissonade, Professor of Neuroscience at Sheffield.

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