Spinal cord injury affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, with no treatments currently available. 


Healing is hindered by the lack of nerve regeneration in the injured spinal cord due to factors such as inflammation and glial scarring. 


But researchers from the UC San Diego School of Medicine and its Institute of Engineering in Medicine have now produced a spinal cord scaffold utilising micro-scale continuous projection printing. 


Fabrication techniques such as 3D printing provide a means to generate scaffolds that can support and guide nerve regeneration. These scaffolds can be designed and produced to match the size and shape of the injury site.


Key to the scaffold production was biomimicry — mimicking the natural structure and mechanical characteristics of spinal cord. 


The researchers used rats with spinal cord injury to test their 3D printed scaffolds.


The researchers examined the animals six months after transplantation and saw significant physical improvement in the group implanted with scaffold and cells compared with the controls. 


Spinal cord injuries often carry high morbidity and poor prognosis, owing to insufficient regeneration of nerves following injury. 


This new technology may provide a significant step towards improved treatment by creating an environment that can be tailored to specific injuries to foster natural nerve repair. 

The research team is currently looking to conduct trials on larger animal models, and aims to take the technology into human trials soon.