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Researchers Boost Nerve Growth With 3D Printed Scaffolds

Scaffolds are the new hip word in the biomedical field, especially thanks to bioprinting and bioinks. These days, researchers are using tiny scaffolds to fix all sorts of biological problems, from bone growth to tissue regeneration. Now, researchers from University of Saskatchewan in Canada are having a go at nerve cells. The research may allow for the restoration of the touch and movement control in patients with damaged peripheral nervous systems.

Nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system control the body beyond the brain and the spinal chord. While we already have procedures and tools (like autografts) that can repair the PNS, processes are often limited to donor sites. This can be particularly tricky as 22 million people worldwide, and 3.4 million people in Canada, suffer from nerve damage.

Bioprinting Nerve Scaffolds

That’s where 3D printing comes in. While autografts use a system where doctors place donor cells from one part of the body into the damaged area to help regeneration, the bioink uses a slightly different but still similar approach. The researchers turned to Schwann cells, a type of supporting cell in the nervous system that boosts growth and can force nerve cells to grow properly.

The researchers mixed the Schwann cells and a hydrogel scaffold to boost repairs in the damaged areas. They are also foregoing micro-CT imaging for a method that does not require freeze-drying. As they have concluded, the freeze-drying based methods would result in damage to the scaffold structures. The imaging system at the Canadian Light Source is thus far more reliable. It also presents a far quicker means of imaging, taking about 10 minutes to gather data.

Scaffolding and bioinks have come a long way but there is still the issue of proper trials. Most studies use animals and even the ones that use human patients have to clear rigorous trials before they’re ready for implementation. Thankfully, research is speeding up thanks to bioprinting, so expect a whole spate of medical marvels in a few years.

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