Implant and gel combination ‘could heal damaged nerves’

A team of Tel Aviv University researchers has invented a method for repairing damaged peripheral nerves.

Through a biodegradable implant in combination with a newly-developed Guiding Regeneration Gel (GRG) that increases nerve growth and healing, the functionality of a torn or damaged nerve could ultimately be restored.

The therapy, already tested in animal models, is only a few years away from clinical use, said Dr Shimon Rochkind of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Damaged nerves lose the ability to transfer signals for movement and feeling through the nervous system.

Dr Rochkind and Prof Zvi Nevo of TAU’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry claim to have found a way to breach the gap.

In their method, two severed ends of a damaged nerve are reconnected by implanting a soft, biodegradable tube, which serves as a bridge to help the nerve ends connect.

The gel which lines the inside of the tube nurtures nerve fibres’ growth, encouraging the nerve to reconnect the severed ends through the tube, even in cases with massive nerve damage, Dr. Rochkind said.

The key lies in the composition of the gel, the researchers said, which has three main components: anti-oxidants, which exhibit high anti-inflammatory activities; synthetic laminin peptides, which act as a pathway for the nerve fibres to grow along; and hyaluronic acid, commonly found in the human foetus, which serves as a buffer against drying, a major danger for most implants. These components allow the nerve to heal quickly and smoothly.

The implant has already been tested in animal models, and the gel by itself can be used as a stand-alone product, acting as an aid to cell therapy.

GRG is not only able to preserve cells, it can support their survival while being used for therapy and transplantation, said Dr Rochkind. When grown in the gel, cells show excellent development, as well as intensive fibre growth. This could have implications for the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s, for which researchers are actively exploring cell therapy as a potential solution.