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Nerve Damage Can Be Repaired With Conductive Hydrogel

by Madonna Watts D'Souza
Nerve Damage Can Be Repaired With Conductive Hydrogel

December 10, 2020

A group of scientists from China claim that they have invented a conductive hydrogel which can help in healing nerve.

We all know how vital nerves are, given that the human body is made up of an extensive network of them. From the soothing experiences like an affectionate kiss to the harshest situations one often finds her/himself in, nerves are responsible for every physical sensation experienced by us in day to day life.

Even when you’re not aware of it, your nerves are continually working to keep your body alert- about the position and probable physical simulations your body may feel from the situation. Even when you’re reading this, you may either be sitting, lying down, walking, or maybe even having someone narrating this to you; you’re consciously made aware of it by nerves.

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A conductive polymer hydrogel could help repair damaged peripheral nerves. (Credit: ACS Nano 2020) | Nerve cell (Image by Colin)

Peripheral Nervous System

True to their name, the peripheral nerves are spread everywhere in your body and responsible for physical sensations. The structure formed by these nerves is known as the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). 

When a body part comes in touch with certain surfaces or stimuli, your peripheral nerve tissues, in a split second, transmit bioelectrical signals from the brain to your body. This then helps you understand what you feel- cold, hot, discomfort, pain, etc. The infamous ‘reflex action’ has the PNS playing a significant role in it.

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A highly flexible and NIR-responsive conducting polymer hydrogel could repair serious injuries to peripheral nerves. (Courtesy: ACS Nano 10.1021/acsnano.0c05197 ©2020 American Chemical Society)

Damages to the Nerves

As powerful as our nerves are, sometimes they are exposed to situations that may cause damage to them. Severe fractures, accidents, wounds, gunshots, and deep gashes may lead to severe nerve damage, rendering them useless, cause chronic excruciating pain or even paralysis in some cases.

Paralysis is the scary aftermath of nerve damage. Nerve damages can cause other disabilities too, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. This has led several doctors and researchers to seek solutions and methods to repair nerve damage.

Globally, scientists have been finding a way to reconstruct damaged nerves and improve brain plasticity for several years. However, the good news is that the recent advancements in medicine have helped several medical scientists get closer to find concrete solutions to help treat damaged nerves.

Possible Treatments To Nerve Damage

Recent research by scientists has led to a stronger hope in speeding up the Odessey of successfully reconstructing damaged nerves.

In October, researchers claimed to have invented a unique hydrogel that would help nerve reconstruction of damaged peripheral nerves in the human body. The gel has been described to be tough, stretchable, and capable of conducting bioelectrical signals. The hydrogel is made up of water and polymers, which are highly compatible with the human body. They additionally contain polyaniline and polyacrylamide. The polymers possessed a 3D microporous network that allowed nerve cells to bind to it and repair and restore severed nerve tissue once implanted into the damaged site.

The study demonstrated, on mice, that the hydrogel could conduct bioelectrical signals through the severed sciatic nerve (present in the hindlimbs or back limbs of animals and the legs of humans) extracted from a toad. Then they implanted the very same hydrogel into rats with sciatic nerve injuries. What was observed next was phenomenal.

After two weeks, the rats’ nerves had recovered from the damages. They also started conducting bioelectrical signals like before, and sensations were restored. Like walking, essential functions were significantly better in rats treated with the hydrogel than with rats without the treatment.

Hopeful Scientists

Authors of the research said, “Because the electricity-conducting properties of the material improve with irradiation by near-infrared light, which can penetrate tissues, it could be possible further to enhance nerve conduction and recovery in this way.”

Qun-Dong Shen, Chang-Chun Wang, Ze-Zhang Zhu, and their group of scientists had published their findings in Journal of American Chemical Society (ACS) Nano.

It’s amazing to see that findings like these provide solace and immense hope to medicine’s future. More research needs to be done to confirm how effectively it will work on humans. This research somewhere may put a smile on your face thinking that one day people with damaged nerves will be able to live to their fullest and do whatever they want and heal entirely from their damage when a concrete cure is found pretty soon one day.

Existing Methods of Repairing Nerve Damage

A joint surgery, known as autologous nerve transplantation, is performed by surgeons by extracting healthy nerves from other parts of the body and joining it with the damaged nerves’ ends. But this doesn’t always end with high success stories as there have been several cases where the nerves are still severed, or multiple surgeries are required to fix the nerves, which are again a significant hit to someone’s wallet. Another popular method is Artificial Nerve Grafting, which is done upon existing healthy nerves; however, the body takes a long period to recover from this method.

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