Medical breakthroughs continue apace

Scientist figures out better nerve repair technique here

Put bluntly, the body botches nerve repair. It forms seals over the two severed stumps of a broken nerve within an hour, says Bittner, but it doesn’t reconnect them first. Even if surgeons then suture the two ends, the seals will prevent nerve signals from passing easily across the join (see “Bound together”).

Bittner realised that we need a system that blocks the body’s repair process. The way to do that, he discovered, is to immediately flush the injury site with a calcium-free salty solution that also contains methylene blue, a chemical that blocks oxidation reactions. Calcium and oxidation drive the formation of tiny spheres called vesicles, which in turn seal the nerve stumps.

The two still-unsealed stumps can then be glued together using polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which Bittner says allows the outer insulating layers of the nerve to join up more efficiently than they would through suturing.

Only when the nerve has been glued together does Bittner restart the body’s natural local repair mechanism – by injecting a calcium-rich salty solution. Vesicles quickly consolidate the join.

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