A Novel 3D-Printed/Porous Conduit with Tunable Properties to Enhance Nerve Regeneration Over the Limiting Gap Length

Advanced Materials Technologies 2023 Volume 8, Issue 17, Article 2300136

Engineered grafts constitute an alternative to autologous transplant for repairing severe peripheral nerve injuries. However, current clinically available solutions have substantial limitations and are not suited for the repair of long nerve defects. A novel design of nerve conduit is presented here, which consists of a chitosan porous matrix embedding a 3D-printed poly-ε-caprolactone mesh. These materials are selected due to their high biocompatibility, safe degradability, and ability to support the nerve regeneration process. The proposed design allows high control over geometrical features, pores morphology, compression resistance, and bending stiffness, yielding tunable and easy-to-manipulate grafts. The conduits are tested in chronic animal experiments, aiming to repair a 15-mm long gap in the sciatic nerve of rats, and the results are compared with an autograft. Electrophysiological and nociception tests performed monthly during a 4-month follow-up show that these conduits allow a good degree of muscle functional recovery. Histological analyses show abundant cellularization in the wall and in the lumen of the conduits and regenerated axons within all rats treated with these grafts. It is suggested that the proposed conduits have the potential to repair nerves over the limiting gap length and can be proposed as strategy to overcome the limitations of autograft.