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Micropatterned Schwann Cell-Seeded Guidance Conduits for Nerve Regeneration

This research aims at designing and fabricating prototypes of novel micropatterned biodegradable polymeric guidance conduits seeded with Schwann cells to achieve directional peripheral nerve regeneration. The overall goals of this project are to investigate the cellular mechanisms of nerve repair. This is the only study to date that involves implantation of biodegradable polymer conduits that can provide both physical and chemical directional guidance cues to regenerating nerves at the cellular level.

Nerves severed by injury can potentially be regenerated by directing their growth using Schwann cells (which provide chemical cues by releasing nerve growth factor and enhance axonal outgrowth) and the micron scale patterns which guide nerve growth at the cellular level. This patterning enhances the probability that the neurons from the proximal end of the severed nerve meet with the ones on the distal stump, thus enabling regeneration. In vitro studies have demonstrated enhanced directional axonal outgrowth using the patterned substrates. In vivo studies are being conducted to test the efficacy of these conduits in rats.


Each year, numerous people suffer debilitating nerve injuries. Over 200,000 peripheral nerve repairs are attempted every year. Nerve injuries complicate successful rehabilitation more than any other form of trauma. Painful neuroma formation, often more disabling than its associated sensory deficits, commonly causes major disability. Improvements in the techniques of nerve repair could provide better return of protective sensibility and tactile discrimination, reduce denervation atrophy of muscles, and minimize pain syndromes. Achieving full function and organ reinnervation after peripheral nerve injury, however, is a challenge. The standard approach to repair of severe injuries is the nerve autograft, where a segment of nerve is removed from another part of the body and sutured between the unattached ends at the injury site. Disadvantages of the nerve autograft include a second surgical procedure, limited availability, and permanent denervation at the donor site. Therefore, Schwann cell-seeded guidance conduits provide an attractive potential alternative for treating peripheral nerve injuries.


Surya Mallapragada, e-mail:, phone: (515) 294-7407