Nervous system

Repairing damaged peripheral nerves

  • Research

Peripheral nerve injury is known to affect more than five million people worldwide every year, leaving those afflicted with loss of motor or sensory function to muscles or skin, often in their hands or feet.

Current therapies to repair nerve damage involve transplanting the patients' healthy nerves or implanting a man-made nerve guide.

New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in partnership with Integra LifeSciences, has revealed a new approach to mimicking the body’s nerve repair processes that may pave the way for repairing larger nerve injuries in the future.

In this pre-clinical study, published in Matrix Biology, the team used a patent protected medical device known as a 'nerve guidance conduit' loaded with extracellular matrix proteins. The extracellular matrix consists of proteins and other molecules that surround, support, and give structure to cells and tissues in the body.

The team demonstrated that their novel approach to nerve repair could increase the density of regenerating long-nerve cells, known as axons, and generate a strong increase in blood vessel density to better support the regenerating tissues, without the need for application of additional cells or growth factors.

At eight weeks post implantation the device successfully improved the recovery responses for repair of traumatic nerve lacerations when compared to the current clinical gold standard. The conduit supported clear improvements in nerve repair and blood vessel formation which opens up the potential of applying this novel approach for larger nerve defects.

Arising from the collaboration with RCSI, in March 2022 Integra LifeSciences launched NeuraGen® 3D Nerve Guide Matrix, a resorbable implant for the repair of damaged peripheral nerves. Incorporating intellectual property developed by the RCSI Tissue Engineering Group, the NeuraGen 3D implant has a unique inner matrix specifically engineered to encourage more complete functional recovery following nerve repair.

The team will continue to work with Integra LifeSciences on an ambitious programme of work that will advance continued enhanced treatments for nerve damage and injury. The outputs from this project will address increasingly challenging nerve defect distances with the ambition to relieve the current clinical reliance on grafted nerves and move into the next phase of pre-clinical trials.

Professor of Bioengineering and Regenerative Medicine Professor Fergal O’Brien led the project in partnership with Integra LifeSciences with colleagues Drs Alan Hibbitts and Zuzana Kočí from the Tissue Engineering Research Group based at Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine at RCSI, and AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.