A new study has paved the way for improved treatments for patients with nerve damage.
Treatment of peripheral nerve injuries that can result in the loss of motor or sensory function remains a major problem worldwide.
In recent years, different strategies have been used in an attempt to improve regeneration and functional recovery in the injured peripheral nervous system, which consists of the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, using artificial nerve grafts.
However, there has been little investigation into changes that occur at the molecular level as a result of these interventions.
Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific director of CÚRAM and lead author of the research paper, said: “Numerous studies have identified that the choice of conduit material used can have an influence on the level of nerve regeneration.
“We now have a clearer understanding of how the body responds to the use of these two biomaterials, which paves the way for the development of specific peripheral nerve regeneration strategies using biomaterial conduits, based on the biomaterial used.
“Our findings suggest that by supplementing the expression of certain proteins on the biomaterial of choice, we can potentially attain the regeneration equivalent or even superior to autograft using biomaterial conduits.”
The study explored the differences in peripheral nerve repair that result from using biomaterial conduits (artificial nerve grafts) to support recovery, compared with the use of two different types of conduit-materials, namely collagen and the chemical compound, polymer PLGA, in an effort to understand fundamental differences in their repair mechanisms at the molecular level in the early stages of repair.
Both collagen and PLGA have previously provided the desired result for the repair of damaged nerves.
Recovery of damaged nerves in the peripheral nervous system is quite robust with the use of suturing, and nerves are known to be able to regenerate across relatively short distances, less than 0.5 mm.
For treatment of larger gaps between damaged nerves however, the primary treatment methods used are auto/allograft or the use of hollow artificial nerve grafts. Autograft (the use of the patients own tissue), despite being the gold standard for repair, has a number of limitations.
The results presented in the study support the hypothesis that regeneration in large peripheral nerve injuries is affected by the material used.
The team found that each material selectively activates different regenerative pathways and alters different biological functions throughout the artificial nerve grafts.
To read the full study in Advanced Functional Materials, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adfm.201702170/abstract