Electrical signals generated outside the body by transcranial stimulation have helped repair severed sciatic nerves in rats, say researchers.
Much evidence suggests the body can repair certain types of peripheral nerve damage. But only in certain circumstances and often in limited ways. So new ways to reconnect severed nerves and to trigger repair and regrowth are of considerable interest.
Which is why the work of Ashour Sliow at Western Sydney University in Australia and a few colleagues is important. These guys have developed a new way to reconnect a severed nerve with a biodegradable scaffold and then stimulate it electrically using a magnetic field outside the body.
They say their technique is minimally invasive, unlike other nerve regeneration approaches and can repair severed nerves in rats.
In recent years, neurologists have discovered that brief electrical stimulation can significantly improve the way nerves repair and regrow.
But there are significant challenges in perfecting this kind of treatment. One is that severed nerves are often stitched back together again and the sutures are a significant source of scaring and inflammation.
Then there is the problem of applying electrical stimulation. This is often done using a conducting band around the reconnected part of the nerve that is connected to a wire that extends out of the body.
This often causes in problems. Any invasive connection is prone to infection and any small tug on the wire can dislodge the band. In practice, the conducting band often migrates, which significantly reduces its therapeutic effectiveness.
“Repairing and electrically stimulating peripheral nerves with a non-invasive device is very challenging and the current scientific and technological know-how has yet to produce an effective system to combine and perform these two tasks together,” says Sliow and co.