Researchers from Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have created a biodegradable implant that accelerates nerve regeneration and improves the healing of a damaged nerve.
The wireless device has been designed to wrap around an injured nerve and provide regular electricity pulses following a surgical repair process.
As the implant is biodegradable, it operates for approximately two weeks and then gets naturally absorbed into the body.
The researchers expect the bioresorbable electronic medicine to potentially replace pharmaceutical treatments for different medical conditions in humans.
As this device delivers therapy over a clinically relevant duration and directly at the target site, it is expected to decrease side-effects or risks that come with traditional, permanent implants.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor John Rogers said: “These engineered systems provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace.
“This approach to therapy allows one to think about options that go beyond drugs and chemistry.”
While electrical stimulation is commonly applied during surgery to aid recovery, it cannot be given continuously throughout the healing process.
The new device is intended to offer continuous, scheduled stimulation at selected time points to enhance the recovery. It is powered and controlled wirelessly by a transmitter outside the body.
When tested in rats, the implant was found to speed up the re-growth of nerves in their legs and enhanced the recovery of muscle strength and control.
It was further observed that electrical stimulation over a larger number of days led to quicker and more thorough recovery of nerve signalling and muscle strength. The researchers did not report any adverse biological effects related to the device and its reabsorption.
While the biodegradable implant is yet to be assessed in humans, it is expected to be helpful as a future therapy for nerve injury patients.