Researchers from California have created 3D-printed implants modeled from MRI scans of spinal cord injuries and used them to promote the regeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord, according to an article published online January 14 in Nature Medicine.
The 3D-printed spinal implants are composed of a series of tiny channels designed to support the growth of neural stem cells and axons at sites of injury along the spinal cord. The group from the University of California, San Diego created 2-mm-sized implants in 1.6 seconds for rat spinal cords and 4-cm-sized implants for human spinal cords in 10 minutes.
"The scaffolding provides a stable, physical structure that supports consistent engraftment and survival of neural stem cells," co-first author Jacob Koffler, PhD, said in a statement. "It seems to shield grafted stem cells from the often toxic, inflammatory environment of a spinal cord injury and helps guide axons through the lesion site completely."
Koffler and colleagues loaded neural stem cells onto the 2-mm implants and grafted the implants into the spinal cords of rats. New spinal cord tissue had regrown at the sites of injury and the rats showed significant functional motor improvement in their hind legs, they found.
"This marks another key step toward conducting clinical trials to repair spinal cord injuries in people," he said.