Bioelectronic medicine could be the way of the future with researchers revealing in a study published in Nature on Monday how an implantable, biodegradable wireless device can speed up nerve regeneration.
“These engineered systems provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace,” said John A. Rogers, co-senior author of the study. “This approach to therapy allows one to think about options that go beyond drugs and chemistry.”
Peripheral nerve injuries make up 2 to 5 percent of all trauma cases and pose a problem in the public health sector.
According to the Foundation of Peripheral Neuropathy, damage to the peripheral nerves, which run from the brain and spinal cord to the arms, hands, legs, and feet, can cause numbness and pain in certain areas of the body.
Experts have been seeking ways to treat the condition, but few treatments have had any dramatic impact.
A team of researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine began to look into ways to complement surgical methods with a nonpharmacological, bioelectric form of therapy and they came up with what is being described as bioelectronic medicine.
In the study, a wireless, biodegradable device was inserted into rats that underwent surgical repair, and was programmed to deliver regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves, according to Eureka Alert.
The researchers found that this led to accelerated regrowth of nerves and enhanced recovery of muscle strength and control.
The thin, flexible device is wrapped around an injured nerve and administers electrical impulses at selected times for about two weeks before it is naturally absorbed by the body.
Co-senior author Dr. Wilson Ray explained that electrical stimulation during surgery helps, but the window for treatment closes once the surgery is over.
“With this device, we've shown that electrical stimulation given on a scheduled basis can further enhance nerve recovery.” he said in a statement.
The device has not yet been tested on humans but researchers believe the findings can assist future therapeutic options for nerve injury.
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