A partnership of Irish researchers has announced a breakthrough for nerve repair treatments designed to mimic the body’s own healing process, showing success in healing peripheral nerve damage.
The study published in the journal Matrix Biology involved the use of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins which play an important role in tissue formation. The pre-clinical trial involved using ECM proteins to regenerate nerves without the need for stem cells or nerve grafting.
The study was conducted by the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) and global Medtech company Integra LifeSciences.
Peripheral nerve injury is a major clinical problem and is known to affect more than 5 million people worldwide every year, leaving those afflicted with loss of motor or sensory function to muscles or skin. Current therapies to repair nerve damage involve transplanting the healthy nerves of a patient to repair damage or implanting an artificial nerve guidance conduit.
Researchers used a new ECM-loaded medical device known as a nerve guidance conduit, which showed an improved recovery response at eight weeks following the repair of traumatic nerve lacerations with substantial loss of tissue. The results showed increased pro-repair inflammation, blood vessel density and regenerating nerve density compared to the current standard of care.
The study’s lead authors Dr Alan Hibbitts and Dr Zuzana Kočí said: “Our conduit supported clear improvements in nerve repair and blood vessel formation and most importantly, we saw that we could scale this up to approach very large nerve defects in our pre-clinical studies.”
Principal investigator of the study Prof Fergal O’Brien said the goal was to create a device with improved outcomes that would “translate well” in regulatory assessments into the clinical setting.
“This provides a more direct route to market and therefore the potential for faster real-world impact in improving patient quality of life,” He added.
O’Brien said the project’s current goals are to relieve the current clinical reliance on grafted nerves and move into the next phase of pre-clinical trials. He added that the partnership with Integra has been “essential to this process and we look forward to an ambitious programme of work that will advance continued enhanced treatments for nerve damage and injury”.
Chief Scientist at Integra Dr Simon Archibald said the company has been partnered with O’Brien’s team since 2005 to find new solutions in regenerative medicine.
“We are enthusiastic for the future potential of this iterative innovation to address long-gap nerve repair, building on our current leading clinical materials for short-gap nerve repairs,” Archibald said.
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