Nerve damage: Using electronic implants to hasten healing

Implantable, biodegradable devices speed nerve regeneration in rats

Bioelectronic Implants Do Their Job Then Dissolve

The medicine that they have developed is said to be the first example of bioelectronics medicine which is an implantable biodegradable wireless device.

The collaborators - materials scientists and engineers at Northwestern and neurosurgeons at Washington University - developed a device that delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats after a surgical fix process, accelerating the regrowth of nerves in their legs and enhancing the ultimate recovery of muscle strength and control.

Scientists have created a new device that can help heal nerve damage.

Unlike their counterparts in the brain and spinal cord, peripheral nerves running through the arms, legs and torso can regenerate after injury.

It is standard practice in nerve injury cases requiring surgery to administer electrical stimulation during the procedure to speed healing of the nerve.

The thin, flexible device is wrapped around an injured nerve and administers electrical impulses at selected times for about two weeks before it is naturally absorbed by the body.

Vehicle accidents, sports injuries and repetitive tasks involving fingers, including typing, leave people with numbness, tingling and weakness in their hands, arms or legs.

Estimates now suggest that peripheral nerve damage as a result of trauma and medical conditions affects around 20 million people in the United States and incurs an annual healthcare bill of $150 billion.

"We know", notes co-senior study author Dr. Wilson Z. Ray, an associate professor of neurological and orthopedic surgery at Washington University, "that electrical stimulation during surgery helps, but once the surgery is over, the window for intervening is closed".

While the device has not been tested in humans, the findings offer promise as a future therapeutic option for nerve injury patients.

The idea of transient electronic devices has been a "grand quest" in materials science for many years, said study co-author John Rogers of Northwestern. "With this device, we've shown that electrical stimulation given on a scheduled basis can further enhance nerve recovery". The device is powered wirelessly by a transmitter outside the body that acts much like a cell phone charging mat. It carries signals up and down the lower limbs and controls muscles such as the hamstrings and others in the legs and feet. They used the device to provide one hour per day of electrical stimulation to the rats for one, three or six days, or no electrical stimulation at all, and then monitored their recovery for the next 10 weeks. Recovery of nerve signals and muscle strength was more rapid and complete, however, the more days of stimulation the animals received. "Had we delivered electrical stimulation for 12 days instead of six, would there have been more therapeutic benefit?"

"Before we did this study, we weren't sure that longer stimulation would make a difference, and now that we know it does we can start trying to find the ideal time frame to maximize recovery", Ray said. "Maybe. We're looking into that now". This device after some days get disappear into the body itself and does not leave any kind of trace about itself. "This notion of transient electronic devices has been a topic of deep interest in my group for almost 10 years - a grand quest in materials science, in a sense".

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