Repairing Nerve Damage – A Good Case of the Nerves

2009-03-22 |

While treating spinal cord damage may be considered the Holy Grail of nerve repair research, a less glamorous but still important area involves the repair of peripheral nerves, or those nerves located outside of the brain and spine. With some 800,000 peripheral nerve injuries reported annually in the US and studies indicating that approximately 2-3% of the population in Canada and Australia have had a major nerve injury, many people stand to benefit from any advances in nerve repair.

How Is Nerve Damage Currently Treated?

Damage to peripheral nerves can affect motion, the senses and even some normally automatic activities such as breathing and digestion. The effects of nerve damage can range from numbness and tingling sensations to burning pain and some forms of paralysis. Those who suffer a peripheral nerve injury may be treated with a nerve graft from another part of their body when the nerve damage is serious, but in most cases will have to live with the effects of the nerve damage. Even when performed, nerve repair surgery may not be completely effective as the nerves often do not fully ‘rewire’ in the damaged area.

What Treatments Are Being Developed For Nerve Damage?

Many surgeons have stated that the technologies simply do not exist to adequately treat most forms of nerve damage, but ongoing research is attempting to change this reality. One approach to aiding nerve repair that is being investigated in several research institutions and companies is the use of scaffold-like structure to bridge the gap in a broken nerve pathway. This strategy seems to promote nerve growth by giving the nerves a structure to grow across to enable reattachment of broken nerve endings. Once the nerves regrow, the scaffolding is then reabsorbed into the body.

In the quest to build the scaffold structures, one technique uses polymers attached to spun filaments of sugar, while another uses ultra-thin modified silk strands and a third uses seed extracts that convert from a liquid into a solid scaffold once they reach body temperature. While these techniques are very interesting science, in all cases, more than just the structure is required to promote the nerve reattachment. It seems that the nerves need some enticement to reconnect and this is where the scaffold idea is being enhanced further.

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Category: Medical Research, Medical Treatment

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