When peripheral nerves are damaged or even severed due to injury or disease, then dramatic disabilities can result in the affected individual. This may range from local paralysis of senses to the painful disorder ofneuropathy.
Neurons that loose their primary connections to one another through the axon–the main nerve fiber that transports electrical signals from the cell body to other neurons–are very slow to re-grow, and will likely die due to inactivity. If they do re-develop and connect, then the nervous system can re-learn how to have a reasonably-functioning network, but full recovery to its original condition is difficult.
To encourage and guide this re-growth process, a European collaboration of researchers are developing a new neurotechnology based on fabricated polymer microtubes that can be implanted and monitored during axon regeneration. Centered at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cell Engineering and Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering under Dr. Mathis Riehle, the team plans to surgically insert these specialized tubes between two neurons whose axon fibers are severed. With a little electrical stimulation along the tube, they anticipate that the fibers will begin to grow along the length of the tube and establish a new neural connection on the other side… the neuronal equivalent of the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The successful development of this technique will certainly mean significant improvements in recovery for patients with peripheral nerve damage. It may also pave the way for a more focused neuroengineering method for creating new connections in the human nervous system, and even helping living nerves functionally connect to implanted devices. Controlling the development and re-development of neuron networks will become a major leap for future neurotechnological advances.
“Scientists hope tiny tubes can help repair damaged nerves” :: PhysOrg.com :: August 16, 2009 :: [ READ ]