Peripheral nerves are part of the peripheral nervous system which is comprised of 43 pairs of motor and sensory nerves responsible for connecting the central nervous system or the brain and the spine with the rest of the body.
These nerves transmit electrical signals and control the functions of sensation, movement, and motor coordination. They are very important for normal information transmission and functioning of the human body, but they are also easily damageable.
Any injury to the peripheral nerves inhibits the information transmission, hence negatively affecting the normal function of peripheral nerves and results in neurological disorders, paralysis, and a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy can cause weakness, numbness, and chronic pain with the latter being a major problem in those affected.
Furthermore, the numbness in the feet can cause sores that do not heal, and in rare cases lead to an amputation. But there are methods to treat peripheral neuropathy, however, they are not always guaranteed to produce results.
Treatment options for peripheral nerve injury
Peripheral nerve injury can become a disability for some and needs to be treated accordingly. The current method of treatment involves a procedure called autologous nerve transplantation, in which a healthy nerve is taken from the patient and transplanted to where the nerve is damaged. However, this method does not always work as sometimes these transplanted nerves may not be able to transmit electric signals.
In fact, multiple follow up surgeries need to be performed to be able to restore function even in the slightest.
A School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Study
Recent research published in the American Chemical Society(ACS) Nano Journal by Qun-Dong Shen, Chang-Chun Wang, Ze-Zhang Zhu, and their team shows promising results in treating peripheral nerve injury with a conductive hydrogel.
According to Shen, they developed a light-stimuli-responsive and stretchable conducting polymer hydrogel (CPH) as a transplant alternative for the autologous nerve transplant and it has shown great results in vivo.
The hydrogel when transplanted to the affected region has the ability to transmit electric signals, hence acting as an artificial nerve. According to the research team, the efficiency or conductivity of the conducting polymer hydrogel can be enhanced by infrared light.
Furthermore, the material is able to transmit electric signals even when mechanically elongated, like that seen in nerves in strain.
The research team applied the concept of this artificial nerve/conducting polymer hydrogel into the toad animal models with a damaged sciatic nerve and it transmitted signals efficiently. Next, they applied this to mice models that also had a damaged sciatic nerve. When compared to the mice not treated with CPH, these mice had improved motor function in two weeks.
This application on the animal models proves that CPH works brilliantly in treating those with chronic pain, paralysis, and disability due to peripheral nerve damage.