NGC technique could boost nerve injury recovery rates

Engineers have created a new technique that could improve the chances of restoring sensation and movement in injured limbs. 

Sheffield University engineers working in collaboration with German-based company Laser Zentrum Hannover have created a method that could help naturally repair damaged nerves.

The team outlined a new method for creating medical devices known as nerve guidance conduits (NGCs) in the journal Biofabrication.

The method, based on a principle known as ‘laser direct writing’, enables the fabrication of complex structures from computer files via the use of CAD/CAM (computer aided design/manufacturing), and has allowed the research team to manufacture NGCs with a much higher resolution than previously possible.

Lead author Frederick Claeyssens told The Engineer that the 3D structures produced with the new technique resemble a series of tubes assembled in a honeycomb lattice structure. ‘In its simplest form the aim of these tubes is to help bridge gaps in the peripheral nervous system,’ he said.

The structures are made from a biodegradable synthetic polymer material based on polylactic acid and have been designed to guide damaged nerves to re-grow through a number of small channels.

‘The 3D structures we can produce are biomimetic because they mimic the biology and the structure of the nerve,’ added Claeyssens.

Once the nerve is fully regrown, the conduit biodegrades naturally. The team hopes that this approach will significantly increase recovery for a wide range of peripheral nerve injuries.

In laboratory experiments, nerve cells added to the polymer conduit grew naturally within its channelled structure and the research team is now working towards clinical trials.

The three-year project was funded through a £100,000 EPSRC grant and a £125,000 Invention for Innovation (i4i) grant from the National Institute for Health Research.