Humans with severe spinal cord injuries have been offered hope by scientists who have successfully treated rats with the same condition.
Using 3D printing to create the scaffolding around which stem cells can implanted, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, helped rats to regain significant motor control in their hind legs.
The implants contain dozens of tiny channels, just 200-micrometres wide, which guide neural stem cells and axon growth along the spinal cord injuries.
Due to the biocompatible design of the scaffolding, the body’s blood vessel system can naturally grow so that the nerve fibres are kept alive and fed with nutrients as well as discharge waste.
According to the team, the printing technology it used was capable of creating each implant in less than two seconds per each device – whereas traditional printers would have taken several hours.
Their work was published in the journal Nature and explains how the team printed a spinal cord which was loaded with neural stem cells.
In the tests on rats, the scaffolds helped the animals regrow tissue and the stem cells nerve fibres inside of the scaffolding expanded out into the host spinal cord.