Israeli researchers claim to have developed a material that speeds up the repair of damaged nerves using electricity.
This ultra-thin material – a kind of high-tech fabric – can be wrapped around damaged nerves inside the body and allow light-derived electricity to flow through them after the wound has closed.
Its inventors, from the Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology – in Haifa, tested the material on rats and documented its effectiveness in the journal Nature Materials.
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The material accelerated nerve repair in rats by 33%, and will now be developed and tested in humans.
Professor Hemi Rotenberg, one of the inventors, said that after further development it could be used both to repair nerves and potentially for temporary cardiac stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the heart after an operation. He expects it to be ready for widespread use on humans within three to five years.
“After peripheral nerve injury, the nerves grow back, but slowly, and during this time patients can experience significant damage. Our goal was to accelerate this process,” said Rotenberg, based at the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, in Times of Israel.
“Electrical stimulation seems to help, but it’s only really possible when the wound is open – unless we leave electrical stimulation in the nerves after closing the wound. This may require problematic operations to remove the device,” he said.
“Our solution consists of a very thin silicone material, which can be wrapped around the nerve when the wound is opened. The wound can then be closed, and the material will be stimulated with light. »
In more scientific terms, near-infrared light is shone onto the skin, passes through it to reach a membrane made of the new material, which then photo-activates the damaged nerve tissue. Eventually, according to Rotenberg, doctors will be able to wrap the material around the heart.
“In the article, we demonstrate the efficacy of the new substance in two different contexts: cardiac stimulation and peripheral nervous system activation,” he said.
“In the context of cardiac treatments, for example, the use of such a device can allow temporary cardiac stimulation for rehabilitation after an operation. This can avoid the use of a temporary electrode that must be inserted into the heart, which may cause discomfort when it is time to remove it.
“Because the membrane we developed is made of a silicone-based material, which absorbs into the body without any toxic effects, there is no need for additional surgery to remove from the body. »
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