by Lilika Jenkins ‘22
Developing technology introduces a new approach to nerve regeneration and surgical repair through the use of stem cells (unspecialized cells with the potential to develop into specialized cells like nerve cells) to aid in proper recovery. With this new technology, instead of extracting nerves from other parts of the body, making these areas potentially lose function or sensitivity, it is now possible to repair these nerves with less invasive procedures and even higher chances of the regenerating nerves to develop properly without disfiguration or premature death.
While nerves can regrow and regenerate in damaged areas of the body naturally, it is usually an extremely slow and painful process that may result in imperfect recovery or cause complications. When there is an area of the body that needs immediate nerve repair, such as the face, throat, or internal body organs, nerves from areas such as the legs or arms are used to aid in regrowing and healing of these crucial body parts. This procedure, however, can cause complications, and nerve grafting in this manner may cause the nerves to not fully attach to the graft and fail to aid in recovery altogether. Sometimes, regrowing nerves can mature without a myelin sheath: a protective membrane that protects the nerve from outside factors and potential damage. Without the myelin sheath, the nerve will quickly deteriorate and can slow electrical impulses sent to the brain and body.
Research surrounding stem cells can open gateways to much more efficient recovery and safer procedures. Stem cells have contributed to more efficient recovery methods in heart conditions, chronic muscle pain, severe burns, and other potentially life-threatening or severely disabling ailments. While the research surrounding nerve regeneration and stem cells is still in its early stages, studies show that it can reduce the total damage to peripheral nerves and improve tissue regeneration. With proper testing, trials, and improvements surrounding nerve repair and stem cells, this method of treatment may be the new go-to procedure for intensive nerve regenerative surgery and recovery.