A new product could help reverse paralysis by implanting a 3-D printed "guide" to help the nerves grow back correctly.Regrowing nerves that have been damaged due to disease or injuries is one of the holy grails of medicine. If one could accomplish this feat, a variety of forms of paralysis could become treatable.
Gizmag reported recently on the work of a group of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins University who have hit upon a way to repair damaged nerves using 3D printing. The technique does not involve the 3D printing of nerves, at least directly.
Instead, the researchers use a 3D printer to create a silicone “guide,” an innovative product that is then implanted in the body of the patient. With biochemical “cues” added, the guide helps to regrow the damaged nerve, repairing the damage. The work has concentrated on the sciatic nerve, one of the larger nerves that control muscles of the thigh, lower leg, and foot. Experiments with rats have been met with considerable success.
The next step will likely be human trials. The way it would work is that doctors would scan a model of the nerve that was injured, perhaps using another living human or a cadaver. Then the silicone guide would be printed and implanted. The process of scanning and printing would take about an hour. Based on lab and rat studies, the nerves would take several weeks to grow back.
The implications of the research are mind blowing. People who have been consigned to wheelchairs for the remainder of their lives would now be giving back the ability to walk. The effect on the quality of life for millions of people will be profound.