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3D Printed Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries

Science Daily reports on a recent article from the scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials.  Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a “groundbreaking 3D printed device, which could someday help patients with long-term spinal cord injuries regain some [critical] functions.”

This device, which the researchers are referring to as a 3D printed guide, is made from silicone and “serves as a platform for specialized cells, which are then 3D printed on top of it.  The guide would be surgically implanted into the injured area of the spinal cord where it would serve as a type of ‘bridge’ between living nerve cells above and below the area of injury.  The hope is this would help patients alleviate pain as well as regain some [critical functions such as] control of muscles, bowel, and bladder.”

As University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the University’s College of Science and Engineering Michael McAlpine, Ph.D., explains: “this is the first time anyone has been able to directly 3D print neuronal stem cells derived from adult human cells on a 3D printed guide and have the cells differentiate into active nerve cells in the lab.”

“In this new process…researchers start with any kind of cell from an adult, such as a skin cell or blood cell. Using new bioengineering techniques, the medical researchers are able to reprogram the cells into neuronal stem cells. The engineers print these cells onto a silicone guide using a unique 3D-printing technology in which the same 3D printer is used to print both the guide and the cells. The guide keeps the cells alive and allows them to change into neurons. The team developed a prototype guide that would be surgically implanted into the damaged part of the spinal cord and help connect living cells on each side of the injury.”

Co-author of the study and University of Minnesota Medical School Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Stem Cell Institute Ann Parr, M.D., Ph.D., really brings the value of this research down to earth: “we’ve found relaying any signals across the injury could improve functions for the patients.  There’s a perception people with spinal cord injuries will only be happy if they can walk again.  In reality, most want simple things like bladder control or to be able to stop uncontrollable movements of their legs.  These simple improvements in function could greatly improve their lives.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Science Daily and the University of Minnesota

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