AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 3, 2019

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3-D Printed Implant Promotes Nerve Cell Growth to Treat Spinal Cord Injury

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In rat models, the novel scaffolding mimicked natural anatomy and boosted stem cell-based treatment; the approach is scalable to humans and advances effort toward clinical trials

For the first time, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Institute of Engineering in Medicine have used rapid 3D printing technologies to create a spinal cord, then successfully implanted that scaffolding, loaded with neural stem cells, into sites of severe spinal cord injury in rats.

The implants are intended to promote nerve growth across spinal cord injuries, restoring connections and lost function. In rat models, the scaffolds supported tissue regrowth, stem cell survival and expansion of neural stem cell axons out of the scaffolding and into the host spinal cord. 

“In recent years and papers, we’ve progressively moved closer to the goal of abundant, long-distance regeneration of injured axons in spinal cord injury, which is fundamental to any true restoration of physical function,” said co-senior author Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience and director of the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Axons are the long, threadlike extensions on nerve cells that reach out to connect to other cells. 

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