Research & Innovation

Stevens Expert Awarded DOD Grant to Regenerate Damaged Nerve Tissue of Wounded Soldiers

The number of injuries resulting in severe nerve damage and amputation for wounded soldiers has increased over the years. Dr. Xiaojun Yu, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, has been awarded a grant by the Department of Defense to improve nerve regeneration research. The co-investigators on this project are Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar and Dr. Cato Laurencin from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Connecticut Health Center. Although prosthetics technology has come a long way, even the most advanced device does not compare to the functionality of the original limb. Dr. Yu envisions a procedure that fully regrows nerves and restores function to damaged limbs, thus eliminating the need for amputation.

According to Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. “Dr. Yu’s work provides the framework for innovative regenerative therapy treatments that return function to limbs for those injured in the line of duty, potentially giving them the greatest possible mobility and range of function as they return to life at home.”

Dr. Yu will be concentrating on designing and developing a scaffold, a biological substitute that is used as a basis to seed and facilitate new nerve cells.  By creating a biodegradable scaffold that mimics the structure and morphology of natural nerves, damaged nerve tissue could be augmented or replaced surgically.

“The scaffold provides an initial basis to grow the nerve cells, and slowly degrades as new nerve tissue forms until it is completely replaced by natural tissue. The graft system is composed of a composite of nanofibers that are structured to provide optimal conditions for mechanical stability and cell growth,” says Dr. Yu. “Bone marrow cells from the same patient provide the initial cells on the scaffold, minimizing the risk of rejection from the host.”

Osteochondral Scaffold

The current “gold standard” treatment for damaged nerves is an autograft, where a segment of nerve is taken from another site on the patient and implanted at the injury site.  While autografts effectively regrow nerves, there is a risk of causing additional damage at the donor site.  Also, the donor site does not always have long enough nerve tissue to replace the injured nerve.  Other commercial scaffold solutions utilize a simple collagen- or polymer-based tube and are not designed optimally for nerve regeneration, therefore, tissue growth is very slow and functional recovery is not guaranteed. Dr. Yu’s scaffold has dedicated structures to maximize nerve regeneration.  His innovation offers a safer and more effective scalable alternative to currently available technologies.

Dr. Yu is assisted by Ph.D. candidate Wei Chang. With a Master’s of Science in Materials Engineering from Stevens, Mr. Chang is applying his knowledge and interest in biomaterials to develop effective nerve scaffolds. “Dr. Yu has been a fantastic mentor,” says Mr. Chang. “He trains his students to think critically for themselves in preparation for the real world.”

About the Department of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Biomedical Engineering

The mission of the Department of Chemistry, Chemical Biology, and Biomedical Engineering (CCBBME) is to exploit the natural interdependence of science and engineering, to maintain comprehensive educational programs, and to conduct innovative and purposeful chemistry and biology research that will both inform and be informed by biomedical engineering applications.  CCBBME fulfills the larger mission of Stevens Institute of Technology, which creates new knowledge and educates and inspires students to acquire the competencies needed to lead in scientific discovery and in the creation, application and management of technology to solve complex problems and to build new enterprises. Learn more: