3D-Printed Pathway Helps Nerve Growth

3D printing has reached a major breakthrough in the medical industry. Patients suffering from nerve damage can now receive nerve guide implants that will help them regrow damaged nerves.

The medical industry has benefited immensely from 3D printing technology. A few weeks prior, a cancer patient received a 3D printed rib cage.

“This represents an important proof of concept of the 3D printing of custom nerve guides for the regeneration of complex nerve injuries,” said lead author Michael McAlpine, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, in a statement.

According to McAlpine, as the technology advances, a library of nerve scans can be created that will help individuals recover from extensive nerve damage.

IFL Science reports:

The process may be aptly suited for this field of medicine because nerves do not regenerate much after injury – if growth happens at all, it is usually slow and limited. Current treatment options include surgical procedures such as grafts or nerve guidance conduits, which are essentially tiny tubes that direct nerve endings toward each other.


This printing technology takes a slightly different approach: After 3D scanning a rat’s sciatic nerve, the researchers used a custom-built 3D printer to make silicone guides for nerve regeneration. These 3D-printed nerve pathways were embedded with biochemical cues to promote growth.


The final 3D-printed product was then implanted into rats with severed nerves. In about 10 to 12 weeks’ time, the rats experienced improved walking ability. The advantage of this technology is that precise shapes can be printed to suit the patient, rather than a one-tube-fits-all approach. The study is published in Advanced Functional Materials.


What sets this experiment apart, according to the researchers, is that it shows regrowth for a non-linear, complex nerve. The sciatic nerve is Y-shaped with both sensory and motor branches.


Photo credit: University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.