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This Stretchable Conductive Hydrogel Could Repair Damaged Nerves

Injuries in which a peripheral nerve has been completely severed, such as a deep cut from an accident, are difficult to treat

Researchers have developed a stretchable conductive hydrogel that could someday be used to repair damaged nerves.

According to the study, published in the journal ACS Nano, injuries in which a peripheral nerve has been completely severed, such as a deep cut from an accident, are difficult to treat. A common strategy, called autologous nerve transplantation, involves removing a section of the peripheral nerve from elsewhere in the body and sewing it onto the ends of the severed one.

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However, the surgery does not always restore function, and multiple follow-up surgeries are sometimes needed. The research team from Nanjing University in China wanted to develop an effective, fast-acting treatment that could replace autologous nerve transplantation.

For this purpose, they decided to explore conducting hydrogels — water-swollen, biocompatible polymers that can transmit bioelectrical signals.

New hydrogel can help repair damaged nerves: Study
A common strategy, called autologous nerve transplantation, involves removing a section of the peripheral nerve from elsewhere in the body and sewing it onto the ends of the severed one. (Representational Image). Unsplash

The researchers prepared a tough but stretchable conductive hydrogel containing polyaniline and polyacrylamide. The crosslinked polymer had a 3D microporous network that, once implanted, allowed nerve cells to enter and adhere, helping restore lost tissue.

The team showed that the material could conduct bioelectrical signals through a damaged sciatic nerve removed from a toad. Then, they implanted the hydrogel into rats with sciatic nerve injuries.

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Two weeks later, the rats’ nerves recovered their bioelectrical properties, and their walking improved compared with untreated rats.

“Because the electricity-conducting properties of the material improve with irradiation by near-infrared light, which can penetrate tissues, it could be possible to further enhance nerve conduction and recovery in this way,” the study authors wrote. (IANS)

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