Research to develop novel approach to repairing nerve damage

Structures comprised of novel biocompatible and biodegradable materials could transform how we treat nerve damage.

A research project involving University of Melbourne researchers in partnership with the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery will explore a novel approach to repairing damaged nerves. It is hoped that using biocompatible and biodegradable structures will help create a microenvironment that can take advantage of existing regenerative processes in the human body to support nerve regrowth.

Nerve damage is known to cause reduced motor, sensory and limb function, affecting a patient’s independence and quality of life. Autografts – which involve taking nerves from another part of a patient’s body to repair the damaged nerve – remains the primary treatment option available for those with nerve damage. However, the surgical removal of nerves come with clear risks for the patient.

“A lack of satisfactory treatments has meant patients are often forced to endure pain, loss of mobility, a reduced quality of life and ongoing health expenses”, Professor Andrea O’Connor, project lead, explains.

“This project aims to develop new materials technology to support superior tissue regeneration for peripheral nerve repair and may ultimately lead to solutions for the regeneration of other soft tissues, such as skeletal muscle, ligaments and tendons.”

Successful development of the nerve repair structures will require forming novel materials with adjustable physical and chemical properties, shaping three-dimensional structures to support nerve regrowth, and creating the right conditions for the nerve cells to interact successfully. The project team, including researchers from Swinburne University, Monash University, the CSIRO and the University of Bayreuth in Germany, are currently working on developing the novel materials, with testing and optimisation underway.

The technology has a range of potential applications, including use in improved artificial and robotic limb replacements. If the project is successful, the team is planning to explore large-scale manufacturing opportunities to ensure the technology becomes widely available to patients who need it.

The study received funding from the Study Melbourne Research Partnerships program, made possible by funding from the Victorian government and research management organisation VESKI.