Each year, many people will suffer a spinal cord injury. Some people may have only a small area of paralysis. Others may have more extensive areas of injury. While many people recover and move on, others can face all sorts of lasting effects such as not being able to walk, use their hands, or even breathe on their own. In the past, these kinds of injuries have proven very difficult to treat. Many people have spent decades dealing with the aftermath of an accident that changed their lives for the worse in mere seconds. Those with spinal cord injuries can suffer from shortened life spans, a decreased ability to function without help and even an inability to enter the profession of their choice. Now a new treatment holds much promise for those with spinal cord injuries. Technological innovations have made it possible to reduce pain and even move again.
3D-Printing is a technological innovation that has been widely used in areas from the entertainment world to the halls of finance and many areas of everyday life. Researchers have also sought to apply this new technology to the field of medicine. Officials at the University of Minnesota are reporting they have figured out how to use this kind of printing to possibly offer renewed hope even for those who have suffered spinal cord problems many decades. The a new guide they’ve created is made of silicon and filled with specialized cells. The body tolerates silicon, making it a great choice for medical devices. Those who have come up with this new idea are hopeful it can implanted in the area where the spinal cord was injured initially. They believe this new innovation can actually be used to bridge the gap between the areas where the person has current spinal function and areas that have been damaged by the original injury.
Over a quarter of a million people are dealing with a long term spinal injury in the United States alone. More than fifteen thousand people will suffer a similar injury each year. Little has been done in recent decades to help. This process utilizes new innovations to directly combat the problem and create new types of cells. With this technique, researchers can take different kinds of adult cells in the body including skin cells or blood cells and change them radically. Bioengineering methods allow them to turn these cells into a different kind of cell known as neuronal stem cells. The cells can then be printed onto the silicon material. The guide is what allows the cells to remain alive during the process of transformation. Such cells are extremely delicate. Using this process has enabled them to keep seventy-five percent of the cells alive as the printing is done. The 3D printer creates both the guide and neuronal stem cells in one place.
Those involved in this research believe it has the possibility to offer something that was lacking in the treatment of spinal cord injuries for many decades. In previous years, once a person was injured and the injury was complete, doctors could offer little hope of recovery in the affected area. Now, they believe this area can be bridged by the silicon. They are confident the new technology will enable those with this injury to enjoy a much better quality of life where they are not as dependent on others for help. While researchers do not believe it may enable the paralyzed to walk again, they are confident it can help them with smaller life tasks such as controlling their bladders and regaining other functions.
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