Researchers from University College London (UCL) ReNeuron and Sartorius Stedim Biotech have developed a new living artificial nerve tissue, Engineered Neural Tissue (EngNT-CTX), to repair severe nerve damage.

EngNT-CTX is intended to address the lack of engineered cellular therapies to treat nerve damage and large gaps in damaged nerves, for which grafts are extracted from healthy body parts to repair a more important function.

It contains ReNeuron’s CTX clinical-grade human neural stem cells aligned in a collagen hydrogel sheet, which is rolled into tubes to bridge the gaps in nerves.

The universal, allogeneic, off-the-shelf approach is expected to enhance peripheral nerve injury treatment and eliminate the need for nerve grafts known to cause further damage or personalised stem cell therapies that require a longer preparation time.

A study conducted by the team to validate the new tissue as a bridge between two severed nerve ends is reported to have demonstrated significant motor and sensory function recovery in damaged nerves of rats.

“We’re impressed with how well the living artificial nerve tissue performed against the autologous nerve grafts.”

The ability of the EngNT-CTX constructs to support the required nerve regeneration for re-establishing functional connections was found to be comparable to autologous nerve grafts.

During electrophysiological studies of muscle function, nerves treated using EngNT-CTX are said to have shown a stronger response than those repaired with autologous nerve graft and empty collagen tubes.

Study’s lead study Dr James Phillips said: “We’re impressed with how well the living artificial nerve tissue performed against the autologous nerve grafts.

“Although it is only in an animal model, it demonstrates that nerves can be repaired using engineered living constructs and opens up possibilities for future treatment options for repairing severe nerve damage.”

The researchers are planning to further optimise the cell and material components of EngNT-CTX before progressing it through the last stages of translation into human testing.