Scientists have developed the first implantable, biodegradable wireless device which speeds nerve regeneration and improves the healing of a damaged nerve. The collaborators — materials scientists and engineers at Northwestern and neurosurgeons at Washington University have developed a device which delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats after a surgical repair process, accelerating the regrowth of nerves in their legs and enhancing the ultimate recovery of muscle strength and control.
The wireless device which is of the size of a dime and the thickness of a sheet of paper operates for about two weeks before naturally absorbing into the body. The technology, called “bioelectronic medicine,” provides therapy and treatment over a clinically relevant period of time and directly at the site where it is needed, thereby reducing side effects or risks associated with conventional, permanent implants.
“These engineered systems provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace,” said Northwestern’s John A. Rogers, a pioneer in bio-integrated technologies and a co-senior author of the study. Researchers have said that, “While the device has not been tested in humans, the findings offer promise as a future therapeutic option for nerve injury patients.”
Co-senior author Dr. Wilson “Zack” Ray, an associate professor of neurosurgery, of biomedical engineering, and of orthopedic surgery at Washington University says, “With this device, we’ve shown that electrical stimulation given on a scheduled basis can further enhance nerve recovery.”
The research study further depicted that the device can work as a temporary pacemaker and as an interface to the spinal cord and other stimulation sites across the body. These findings suggest broad utility, beyond just the peripheral nervous system.