Spinal injuries can be like downed power lines – even if everything on either side of the injury is perfectly functional, the break can effectively shut down the whole system. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have designed a device that could link everything back together again. A silicone guide, covered in 3D-printed neuronal stem cells, can be implanted into the injury site, where it grows new connections between remaining nerves to let patients regain some motor control.
The new treatment could be a mix of both approaches. The Minnesota team started by collecting induced pluripotent stem cells – a type of stem cell that’s derived from adult cells like skin and blood. Once these were bioengineered into neuronal stem cells, the researchers were able to 3D print a device made up of alternating layers of silicone scaffold and neuronal stem cells.