Nerve damage is often permanent, and according to the Mayo clinic, regrowth of nerves is very rare. A 3D-printed guide built by University of Minnesota researchers regrows both the sensory and motor functions of complex nerves after injury.

Using a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques, the Minnesota team implanted the custom silicone guide with biochemical cues. The researchers used a 3D scanner to reverse engineer the structure of a rat’s sciatic nerve. A specialized, custom-built device then printed a guide for regeneration.

The guide was implanted into the rat by surgically grafting it to the cut ends of the nerve. Within about 10 to 12 weeks, the rat’s ability to walk again was improved.

"Someday we hope that we could have a 3D scanner and printer right at the hospital to create custom nerve guides right on site to restore nerve function,” said University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, the study’s lead researcher.