Geetanjali Bendale, Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering and member of the team at the Regenerative Neurobiology & Neuroelectronics Laboratory (RNN Laboratory)—UT Dallas, provides a thorough overview of the current advances in nerve regeneration and repair. Geetanjali Bendale received a master’s in bioengineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Her intensive research focuses on complex nerve regeneration mechanisms and the methods for restoring functional recovery via the use of bio-mimetic cues. Bendale is currently working toward her Ph.D. at the RNN Laboratory under the guidance of Mario Romero-Ortega, Ph.D. Dr. Romero is an associate professor of bioengineering at UT Dallas and adjunct faculty in the surgery department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the UTA Research Institute, and he is a partner researcher at the University of Wollongong, Australia.
The RNN Laboratory is interested in understanding the mechanisms involved in axon guidance and target recognition during development, as well as after an injury. The lab’s focus is in the application of this knowledge within translational applications. Some of their specific work pertains to spinal cord injuries and neuroprotection, neuroma prevention, peripheral nerve gap repair, and regenerative peripheral neurointerfaces as applied to the overall command and feel of robotic prosthetic limbs.
Bendale discusses her work at the RNN Laboratory, specifically detailing their study in nerve regeneration and the development of a biosynthetic nerve implant, which can be used to find new molecules and growth factors that aid in nerve regeneration. She details the body’s intrinsic response to nerve damage and how many nerves in the limbs can regenerate naturally, but if an injury is severe, she states that the nerve may need some assistance such as a graft perhaps. And she describes the various nerve grafts that are currently FDA approved and being used in clinics today. Additionally, she outlines how the tube structures of these nerve repair conduits work and the time it takes for growth to be generated that leads to complete repair of the damaged nerve.
As much research has shown, only a small window of time exists in order to repair nerves properly, in fact, as Bendale comments the time frame could be just a few hours, so after a nerve damage injury occurs timing can be critical. She explains how signals are sent between the proximal and distal ends of the nerve and why this communication is key to repair.
The bioengineering specialist provides an overview of one of their upcoming studies that will center on new molecules that help with strengthening, sensory axons, and motor function axons. And she details how the signals and axons coordinate to accomplish the goal of repair, and precisely which molecules are best suited for aiding in recovery. Further, Bendale explains how their research found that due to the architecture of their biosynthetic nerve implant, the growth of select axons was continuous, which was a significant achievement in the area of nerve repair.