3D printed device aims to restore some function in spinal cord injuries

Engineers and researchers at the University of Minnesota have been working together to develop a new method of treating spinal cord injuries. The team has devised a 3D printed device that could help people with long-term spinal cord inquires regain some function. A 3D printed guide made from silicone serves as a platform to allow special cells to be 3D printed on top of the guide.

This guide would be implanted surgically into the injured portion of the spinal cord. It would serve as a sort of bridge between living nerve cells above and below the damaged area. Researchers say that the goal is to help relieve pain associated with the injury and to help the person to regain control of muscles, bowel, and bladder functions.

The cells that are 3D printed on the guide are from the patient themselves to reduce chances of rejection by the body. Researchers on the project say that this is a "very exciting first step" in treating spinal cord injuries. The target market who could benefit from this device is large.

Scientists say there are about 285,000 people in the US with spinal cord injuries right now with about 17,000 new injuries each year. The process has been developed over the last two years and involves a start with any kind of cell from an adult, like skin or blood cells. Bioengineering techniques are used to reprogram the cells into neuronal stem cells.

Those stem cells are then 3D printed onto the guide device with the guide keeping the cells alive as they change into neurons. The device is then surgically implanted into the damaged part of the spinal cord. Each of the guides can be 3D printed to the exact dimensions needed for the treatment. Research is ongoing and if successful this procedure could be life-changing for people who suffer from spine injuries.

SOURCE: University of Minnesota