♫MUSIC♫ MILES O’BRIEN: Combat, cancer and accidents all can cause devastating nerve injuries. Sometimes, the body heals on its own. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: Your peripheral nerves are the ones in the arms and the face, have an inherent ability to regenerate but only under ideal circumstances. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National Science Foundation, University of Florida Biomedical Engineer Christine Schmidt is working to restore nerve function when injuries are more complicated. SURGEON: Took that muscle and rotated it, took it over the back of his elbow to cover – MILES O’BRIEN: Surgeons can sometimes move a nerve from one part of a patient’s body to another. Schmidt has developed a method that grafts cadaver tissue onto the damaged area to act as a scaffold for nerves to regrow themselves. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: Basically what we’re doing is removing all the cellular material that would cause rejection but leave behind the native architectures. You’re putting this graft into the site of injury. And now, that graft is providing a scaffold for your blood vessels to grow in. And then once you have that re-cellerization your nerve fibers can then regrow, so then, ultimately regain that muscle function. MILES O’BRIEN: Navy Veteran Edward Bonfiglio, wounded in Afghanistan, faced the prospect of an amputation. A graft was a welcome option. The company, AxoGen, distributes the grafts, which were developed based on work done in Schmidt’s lab. JILL SCHIAPARELLI: And his family pressed the doctors to say, “Are there any alternatives?” He was a young, healthy, vibrant guy. And they had a great surgeon at Walter Reed who was willing to work with them to find those options. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: This is some of the micronized nerve that you’re working with. MILES O’BRIEN: Schmidt and her team are also looking at other approaches to directly stimulate nerve growth using natural sugar molecules found in the body as building blocks, eliminating the need to transplant tissue. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: So you don’t have to actually take it from somebody’s body. You can grow it. MILES O’BRIEN: While the ultimate goal in nerve regeneration is reversing paralysis, Schmidt says intermediate successes, like improving lung or bladder function, can be invaluable to patients and their families. CHRISTINE SCHMIDT: So rather than saying we’re going to try to tackle this humongously complex beast and try to get the patient to necessarily be exactly like they were before, why not provide some function that will have merit to this patient. MILES O’BRIEN: So after a serious injury, it’s not just about getting your nerve back. It’s growing it back. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.