Having significantly damaged nerve tissue is bad for a lot of reasons because it doesn’t regenerate easily and it can lead to various serious medical conditions including paralysis. But many scientists are already studying ways of fixing this issue, and a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins University has figured out how to use 3D printing for nerve growth.

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The technology they’ve developer has allowed them to regrow nerve tissue in lab rats and restore normal walking ability 10 to 12 weeks after the 3D printed guide was implanted.

What researchers did was to scan the sciatic nerve of the rat and create a 3D model that can be used to make a 3D printed guide for the nerve. Made of silicone and saturated with chemical cues to trigger motor and sensory nerve growth, the 3D printed guide was then surgically implanted into the cut ends of the rat’s nerve, facilitating the regrowth of the nervous tissue.

According to 3DPrinting Industry, this was the first time that a nerve having a more complicated shape was regrown – so far nerve regeneration had been demonstrated with straight-line nerves.

The technology could be used one day to restore nerve function in humans, but extensive research is still required before that to properly map the human nervous system before actually 3D printing parts.

“This represents a significant proof of concept of the 3D printing of custom nerve guides for the regeneration of complex nerve injuries,” University of Minnesota lead researcher, and mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine said. “Someday we hope that we could have a 3D scanner and printer right at the hospital to create custom nerve guides right on site to restore nerve function.”

More details about this new technology and medicine breakthrough are available in the journal of Advanced Functional Materials – also check the video below to see how the team of researchers 3D printed the nerve regeneration guide.

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