It is estimated that more than 200,000 people annually suffer from serious nerve related pain associated with an accident, or a diagnosed disease which targets the nerves. The latest 3D printing technology has allowed for more cost effective methods of creating nerve regeneration pathways in rats, which after implementation, improved their walking abilities after just 10 to 12 weeks.
The results are extremely significant considering that according to the Mayo Clinic, both spinal and sciatica related nerve pain are in most cases permanent, affecting both strength, movement, feeling and sensation.
Groups of students and professors involved have collaborated on this project from 5 different prestigious universities across the USA to make this possible including University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Princeton University, University of Maryland and John Hopkins University. Even though nerve regeneration is a very complex process, using a 3D printer to reverse engineer a healthy rat, was what enabled them to create a solution.
The hope is that future applications could include humans who are in need of pain relief. According to the lead researcher Michael McAlpine, in theory there could be a “library” of nerves which have been scanned from other healthy individuals or even cadavers, which could then be used through a matching process to create regeneration for the patient in need.
Currently most individuals with serious nerve pain are prescribed medications, or are using after-market products such as Tens Units and other “electrotherapy” devices to manage pain. This new technology may not completely eliminate the need for these additional devices, but it would offer a very large contribution to minimizing the need for dependency on other forms of treatment which are not as beneficially long lasting.
Continued research on this project is expected, as funding from National Institutes of Health, the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund and from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have already enabled the current progress of nerve regeneration.