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"Some Nerve" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers have developed an implantable, biodegradable device that delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats, helping the animals regrow nerves in their legs and recover their nerve function and muscle strength more quickly. The size of a quarter, the device lasts about two weeks before being completely absorbed into the body.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Once more with feeling

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: snoring) Oh, no! Ever had your leg "fall asleep?" Imagine how it would bother you if it took months to go away. Now, you can begin to understand what those with peripheral nerve damage in their arms, legs or hands experience. And doctors have little to offer to speed recovery along.

Surgery is sometimes the best option -- accompanied by electrical stimulation to help damaged nerves regenerate. But once the surgery is over, the stimulation is discontinued. Doctors have no means to continuously provide that added boost.

Now, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine and Northwestern University have developed an implantable, biodegradable device to keep the beneficial stimulation going. The size of a quarter, it lasts about two weeks before being completely absorbed into the body. When tested on rats with sciatic nerve injuries, the stimulation triggered release of growth-promoting proteins -- boosting the rats' nerve cells' natural ability to regenerate, and helping their nerves regrow faster and more completely.

The technology could show promise in treating human peripheral nerve damage. With the right stimulation, healing is feeling again.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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