New hope for nerve repair as collagen scaffolding technology brings movement to paralyzed patients
A new technology plans to remove the needle and thread from nerve repair procedures, instead using a collagen membrane to reconnect nerve fibers and receptors.
It has now been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, opening up new avenues for restoring paralyzed patients’ movement over time.
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“We can take out all the nerves that are left and split them into those that aren’t working,” orthopedic surgeon Alex O’Beirne told 7NEWS.
“A bit like working on your electric lighting.”
One beneficiary of the new technology is skateboarder Damien Hall.
His left hand was paralyzed after a skateboarding accident two years ago.
After receiving the new treatment, he can wiggle his fingers and successfully bundle his hand into a fist.
Skateboarder Damien Hall suffered a paralyzed left hand two years ago after a skateboarding accident – the new nerve repair technology returns to its former movement. Credit: 7NEWS
The treatment uses a material known as Orthocell’s Remplir or CelGro, which envelops the nerve and creates a “healing chamber.”
This membrane scaffold forms a barrier “to protect the aligned ends of the two nerves to be connected”.
Traditionally, nerves are repaired by stitching them with a needle and thread, which can cause damage,” said Professor Minghao Zheng, Scientific Director of Orthocell.
Zheng is also a professor of orthopedic research at the University of Western Australia and head of the Bone and Brain Axis research group at the Perron Institute.
The traditional suturing procedure can be hampered “by imperfect nerve stump alignment” by surgeons, wrote Western Sydney University Associate Lecturer of Human Medical Sciences Dr. Zoran Pletikosa in his dissertation on the material and procedure.
Stitching can cause intraneural scarring, and several techniques have been explored to reduce the need for it, including many biological scaffolds, Pletikosa wrote.
In contrast, he said the collagen membrane nerve-racking technique is “relatively easy to master with minimal training.”
The collagen nerve wrapping process. Credit: Orthocell
Membrane scaffold is said to support natural growth factors and prevent external tissues from entering, potentially shortening healing time.
The procedure took ten years to refine and will now be shared with doctors worldwide.
During the trial phases alone, Australian company Orthocell recorded an 82.6 percent success rate after 24 months in clinical trials involving 23 patients and procedures.
A trial participant, Adrian Walsh, broke his neck in a mountain bike accident and became paralyzed in 2017.
In a mountain bike accident, Adrian Walsh broke his neck and became paralyzed in 2017. “Since being on trial, I’ve been overseeing the renovation of our house, going to the gym a few times a week, and playing wheelchair rugby.” Credit: 7NEWS
“When the accident happened, I knew right away that I couldn’t feel my legs,” said Walsh.
“All I could think about at that moment, lying still on my back, was my wife and three children.”
Over time, Walsh regained movement in his arms but could still not use his wheelchair properly.
“Since I’ve been on trial, I’ve renovated our house. I go to the gym a few times a week and play wheelchair rugby.”