The nervous system is responsible for efficiently performing important body functions by helping different body parts to coordinate and communicate. The Nervous system can be broken down into two parts, the central nervous system which is responsible for sending signals between the spinal cord and the brain and the peripheral nervous system, a network of nerves connecting the central nervous system with other parts of the body.
Injury to the peripheral nerve can lead to serious conditions, including disability. Hence, any success in re-connection of severed nerves can be a life altering necessity.
A Chinese research team led by Jing Liu has come up with a new technique of reconnecting injured nerves. By using liquid metal, they have been able to bridge the nerve ends, successfully allowing the nerves to grow back together while maintaining the activities of the nerves through electric stimulation.
While the current technique is beneficial, it is not free from risk factor as the re-connection of injured nerves takes time owing to the slow growth rate of the nerves at just a millimeter in a day. There lies the challenge as loss of muscle atrophy and function can eventually lead to disability.
The liquid metal innovation is the long awaited solution to repairing injured peripheral nerves and the best functional channel for recovery. The metal alloy GaInSn contains 3 metals; gallium, indium and tin in the proportions of 67%, 20.5% and 12% respectively.
These are the very components which give the liquid metal a competitive edge over its competitors. It is capable of remaining liquid at body temperature, is a good electrical conductor and these unique characteristics possessed by the liquid metal help in nerve regeneration. The discovery of liquid metal could not have come at a better time for many patients. Those with peripheral nerve injury were faced with the possibility of being disabled as they continued losing muscle function.
The team carried out an experiment consisting of Ringer’s solution made of gastrocnemius with sciatic nerve from bullfrogs (a commonly used specimen in neurological test) and then with the liquid metal. The aim of the experiment was to establish the effectiveness of the liquid metal by measuring the electroneurographic signal of both the solution and liquid metal. The liquid metal was found to be more effective than Ringer’s solution. The resistance of the metal alloy was not only found to be lower than that of the solution, but also more stable when higher frequencies of that between 1-10 kHz was used. This makes it better placed to reconnect injured peripheral nerve through a functional recovery channel.
With its many advantages, the introduction of liquid metal is expected to bring hope to patients with peripheral nerve injury. Due to its effectiveness, it is seen as the alternative method by neurosurgeons in treating injured nerves and in nerve transplants.
To add to its many advantages, it can also be clearly seen in the body through x-rays. This is a plus in surgical operations, making it easy to remove the metal when the need arises.
The liquid metal does not dissolve nor does it gets absorbed in the body, yet there have been apprehensions with regard to health as in case it leaks in the body. It is up to the Jing Liu team to carry out more research to answer all the apprehensions that may arise, ensure that the metal alloy is safe to be used on humans and make the severed nerve reconnection a possibility.