Robotics

New 3D-printed device could help treat spinal cord injuries

College of Science and Engineering, August 9, 2018

A 3D-printed guide, made of silicone, serves as a platform for specialized cells that are then 3D printed on top of it. The guide would be surgically implanted into the injured area of the spinal cord where it would serve as a type of “bridge” between living nerve cells above and below the area of injury. The hope is that this would help patients alleviate pain as well as regain some functions like control of muscles, bowel and bladder.

The research is published online today in Advanced Functional Materials, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“This is the first time anyone has been able to directly 3D print neuronal stem cells derived from adult human cells on a 3D-printed guide and have the cells differentiate into active nerve cells in the lab,” said MNDRIVE faculty Michael McAlpine, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and University of Minnesota Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the University’s College of Science and Engineering.

“This is a very exciting first step in developing a treatment to help people with spinal cord injuries,” said Ann Parr, M.D., Ph.D., a co-author of the study and University of Minnesota Medical School Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Stem Cell Institute. “Currently, there aren’t any good, precise treatments for those with long-term spinal cord injuries.”

There are currently about 285,000 people in the United States who suffer from spinal cord injuries, with about 17,000 new spinal cord injuries nationwide each year.

3D-printed guide could help people with spinal cord injuries