Jul 30, 2018 | By Thomas

Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada have developed tiny 3D printed scaffolds that can guide the regrowth of nerve cells, possibly restoring the sense of touch and movement control in patients with damaged peripheral nervous system.

The tiny, bio-printed scaffolds are less than a centimeter long on each side. Credit: Canadian Light Source

The peripheral nerves, which are the links between our brain and spinal cord and the rest of our body, are fragile and easily damaged. It can be damaged by toxins, poor diet, trauma, or diseases such as diabetes, which affects about 422 million people worldwide.

Nerves are surrounded by tissues that act like insulation. Damage to the peripheral nervous system can affect our sense of touch and our movement control, severe peripheral nerve injuries may cause total loss of feeling to the area.

The current standard for treating large gaps in the nervous system due to damage is nerve autografts, the transplantation of donor nerves from another part of the body for the repair and closure of a nerve gap from a peripheral nerve injury.

However, this process is not perfect; there are limited donor sites for nerve repair, and even successful grafts only normally restore a portion of the nerve's original functionality.

Phase contrast imaging-computed tomography at CLS allows for accurate and highly-detailed 3-D reconstructions of the scaffolds to be produced. Credit: Canadian Light Source

Liqun Ning, a postdoctoral fellow in the Tissue Engineering Research Group led by Daniel Chen at the University of Saskatchewan, has spent the last few years investigating if a combination of 3D printing and biotechnology can be used to solve this problem and help with nerve cell regeneration.

Ning's work involves using Schwann cells, supporting cells in the nervous system that can force nerve cells to grow properly, in a 3D printed hydrogel-based scaffold in order to promote and guide the regeneration of the damaged nerves.

Liqun Ning prepares a solution to keep the sample scaffolds hydrated. Credit: Canadian Light Source

At this point, Ning wants to work out a few problems in the scaffolds before this method sees regular medical usage. He wants to try out some different techniques to better direct nervous system growth. Then there will be in vivo trials, testing in live animals to ensure everything works as expected in a living organism, and clinical trials to test with people.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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