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Mending broken nerves with a 3D printer Return to case studies page

Prof Gordon Wallace and A/Prof Peter Innis Materialsnode
Supporting: Good Health
3D printing is promised to provide a revolution in manufacturing, where everything you buy is personalised, from eye glasses, to jewellery, or bone prosthesis. But who would have thought it could be as personal as a customised conduit to repair a broken nerve?

Staff at the Materials node of ANFF are pioneers in 3D printing technology with facilities and expertise that can print various metals, polymers, or biological materials in both 2 and 3 dimensions.

A recent breakthrough has been the development of an “ink” containing printable organic conductors that support cell growth. When this “ink” is electrically stimulated it subsequently produces an environment along which nerve cells can grow.

“The ultimate aim of the project was to produce a 3D conduit that could be inserted between damaged or severed nerves and could grow new, reconnecting cells” said Prof Gordon Wallace, director of the ANFF Materials node.

“Initial trials that involved inserting a polymer conduit between severed nerves have been successful. These will be stepped up by the end of the this year to introduce organic conductors, with trials to be conducted at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne.”

“This innovation is another step towards the "Holy Grail" of nerve repair; one day mending a broken spinal cord.”

The team from the Materials node include the University of Wollongong’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI), and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES). They have recently published aspects of these findings in the scientific journals SMALL and Synthetic Metals. The latest results will soon be published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.