Magazine article Science News

Severed Nerve Regrows to Bridge a Gap

Magazine article Science News

Severed Nerve Regrows to Bridge a Gap

Article excerpt

Biodegradable chemicals have succeeded in encouraging severed nerves in rats to regenerate and span a 2/3-inch gap in tissue. Preliminary results of this work, reported last week in Chicago at the American Chemical Society's national meeting, suggest that these chemicals might become the basis for a device to treat trauma patients with significant damage to nerves in the extremities.

Moreover, the fact that the same polymeric material "can induce regeneration of two very distinct tissues [the sciatic (leg) nerve and skin]," says loannis Yannas of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), "suggests very strongly that there is potential for regneration in other organs that has been significantly underrated." Yannas collaborated on the nerve regeneration device with colleagues at MIT, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and two Boston hospitals.

Yannas was a developer of the "artificial skin" used to grow new epidermis on human burn victims (SN: 1/30/82, p. 73). He says the nerve regeneration device employs the same chemistry: a plastic silicone outer layer (here a tube) filled with cowhide-derived collagen (connective tissue) that has been chemically bonded to a carbohydrate polymer -- glycosaminoglycan, or GAG -- derived from shark cartilage.

The collagen-GAG polymer acts as an initial "scaffold" to support the nerve endings' new growths. By the time the polymer had degraded -- six weeks after surgery -- "we saw continuous nerve fibers bridging the 15-millimeter gap," Yannas says. (In any final device, the plastic tubing would also have to be replaced with a biodegradable material.)

Yannas notes that work led by Swedish researcher Goran Lundborg showed that severed nerves guided by an empty silicone conduit could regenerate across a 6- to 12-mm gap -- but not across 15 mm. …

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