This information is from the Lahey Magazine Summer 2008 Edition, pp 6-7. Only part of it is reprinted here. The entire article can be read here (pdf file).
Led by David J. Bryan, MD—an MIT-Harvard lecturer and specialist in hand surgery and microsurgery in Lahey’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—the team recently presented results from original research on the use of tissue-engineered conduits in peripheral nerve (sciatic nerve) models. The study, funded by a grant from longtime Lahey benefactor Leisa V. Clayton, demonstrated that artificially engineered nerve tissue can perform as well as, and possibly better than, standard live-tissue nerve grafts in restoring lost peripheral nerve function.
The current standard of care calls for using live nerve tissue taken from other parts of the body. According to Bryan, autologous (self-donated) nerve grafts have limitations in terms of availability, side effects—mainly loss of sensation in the donor site—and clinical effectiveness. To overcome these challenges, the Lahey team collaborated with an outside engineering group to create a custom-made, bioengineered blend of synthetic polymers and proteins using sophisticated spinning equipment.Electrospinning—an application of the emerging field of nanotechnology—allows researchers to create minute quantities of a desired cellular fiber for use in peripheral nerve tissue grafts. The artificial material created at Lahey has all the desired qualities needed for the ideal nerve graft: biocompatibility, porosity, biodegradability and the ability to promote growth of new blood vessels in damaged nerve tissue. Bryan reports that nanotechnology has allowed his research team to make great strides in understanding how nerve cells communicate, grow and regain function. Proteins—organic compounds that play a vital role in all basic cell processes—are the key to understanding the inner working of nerve tissue, he explains. Looking to the future, Bryan is extremely excited about the emerging field of proteomics, the study of proteins in living cell tissue.