Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have engineered transplantable living nerve tissue that encourages and guides regeneration in an animal model. Results were published in March in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A.
About 300,000 Americans suffer peripheral nerve injuries every year, in many cases resulting in permanent loss of motor function, sensory function, or both. These injuries are a common consequence of trauma or surgery, but there are insufficient means for repair, according to neurosurgeons. In particular, surgeons need improved methods to coax nerve fibers known as axons to regrow across major nerve injuries to reconnect healthy targets, for instance muscle or skin.
“We have created a three-dimensional neural network, a living conduit in culture, which can be transplanted en masse to an injury site,” explains senior author Douglas H. Smith, MD, Professor, Department of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn. Smith and colleagues have successfully grown, transplanted, and integrated axon bundles that act as ‘jumper cables’ to the host tissue in order to bridge a damaged section of nerve.
How far are we from being able to add new parts to our brains for fun?