Reconnecting severed nerves with liquid metal

When peripheral nerves are severed, the loss of function leads to atrophy of the effected muscles, a dramatic change in quality of life and, in many cases, a shorter life expectancy.

Despite decades of research, nobody has come up with an effective way to reconnect nerves that have been severed. Various techniques exist to sew the ends back together or to graft nerves into the gap that is created between severed ends.

Ultimately, the success of these techniques depends on the ability of the nerve ends to grow back and knit together. But given that nerves grow at the rate of one mm per day, it can take a significant amount of time, sometimes years, to reconnect. And during this time, the muscles can degrade beyond repair, leading to long-term disability…

Today, Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a few pals say they’ve reconnected severed nerves using liquid metal for the first time. And they say that in conducting electrical signals between the severed ends of a nerve, the metal dramatically outperforms the standard saline electrolyte used to preserve the electrical properties of living tissue.

Biomedical engineers have been eyeing the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium for some time (67 percent Ga, 20.5 percent In and 12.5 percent Sn by volume). This material is liquid at body temperature and is thought to be entirely benign. Consequently, they have been studying various ways of using it inside the body, such as for imaging.

Now a team of Chinese biomedical engineers say the metal’s electrical properties could help preserve the function of nerves while they regenerate. And they’ve carried out the first experiments to show that the technique is viable

What’s more, since liquid metal clearly shows up in x-rays, it can be easily removed from the body when it is no longer needed using a microsyringe.

…Their goal is to make special conduits for reconnecting severed nerves that contain liquid metal to preserve electrical conduction and therefore muscle function, but also containing growth factor to promote nerve regeneration…

So it’s just possible that liquid metal will become an important component in the treatment of nerve injuries in future.

Bravo! Something I’d volunteer for in a New York minute. RTFA for surgical details.

Even though I’m an old fart I’d gladly offer to participate if there was a chance of aiding folks in following generations. Good research always needs a few warm bodies to check on final results.

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