For injuries in which nerves are severed, there are already conduits (basically tiny tubes) that can be used to hold the two ends together while they heal. These don't actually do anything to promote healing, however, plus they can't be used on nerves that are injured yet still in one piece. That's why scientists have developed a nanofiber "nerve-wrap" mesh that could be used to treat conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
The mesh was created by researchers from Japan's National Institute for Material Science, along with colleagues from Osaka University, and it takes the form of a flat sheet that is surgically wrapped around the injured nerve to form a sleeve.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
It's made from a very soft biodegradable plastic, which dissolves and is harmlessly absorbed by the body over time. That plastic is also impregnated with vitamin B12 – which has been shown to aid in nerve regeneration – and which is released from the sleeve into the wound site. According to the scientists, taking B12 orally isn't particularly effective at treating nerve injuries.
In lab tests, the mesh was applied to crushed sciatic nerves in rats. The animals regained motor and sensory functions within six weeks, which is significantly faster than would be the case otherwise.
The scientists are now working with a pharmaceutical company to begin human clinical trials of the technology.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia.View gallery - 2 images