Honeycomb-grown Nerves

A honeycomb-shaped scaffold helps damaged nerves reconnect, providing hope that a similar scaffold could someday enable nerves repair in vivo.

Apr 24, 2012
Sabrina Richards

FLICKR, MIKEBLOGS

A biodegradable, honeycomb-shaped scaffold may be a step forward in helping injured nerves regrow and reconnect, reported BBC News. Researchers were able to grow Schwann cells, which support peripheral neuron growth, through a polylactic acid scaffold. The goal, say its inventors, is to enable nerves to reconnect on their own after being severed, such as during a car accident, and to avoid surgical options like suturing the severed nerves.

"When nerves in the arms or legs are injured they have the ability to regrow, unlike in the spinal cord; however, they need assistance to do this," University of Sheffield bioengineering professor John Haycock said in a press release, and Schwann cells can help. "We are designing scaffold implants that can bridge an injury site and provide a range of physical and chemical cues for stimulating this regrowth."

Previous work has used tubes to help severed nerves grow toward each other, but the honeycomb shape best mimics a neuron’s natural structure. "The nerve has small regions of 'cable' that go through from one end to the other end—you have a whole bunch of little cables inside a larger cable. That's what we tried to reproduce with this type of scaffold," Frederik Claeyssens, from the department of materials science and engineering at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC.

Claeyssens and his colleagues are now testing the scaffold in mice  see whether the findings extend to neuronal growth in vivo. If successful, "this technology could make a huge difference to patients suffering severe nerve damage,” he said.